Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Viva Mexico!

Today marks the last day of my 10-day antibiotic treatment for the bronchitis that hit me during my Mexican vacation. The fatigue that accompanied the ailment disappeared almost immediately, but the cough still persists a little. Enough of that; here are some more enjoyable notes about the vacation.

On November 4th, we arrived – as stated previously – 5 hours late, but soon after getting escorted to our Junior Ocean-view suite on the 9th floor, we headed for a much needed cerveza and sampling of the buffet restaurant which was open until 10:30 pm. If I read, on TripAdvisor, any negative reviews about the food, I’ll S-C-R-E-A-M!  There was such a variety of food types that even the most stalwart of carnivores, piscatorians and vegans would salivate at the sight of it all. Even a ‘meat and potatoes only’ curmudgeon would be satiated. This same restaurant served an equally diverse breakfast buffet from 7:00 am to 10:00 am. Huevos of many varieties (not solely ‘rancheros’!), juices, cold cuts, cereals, breads, etc., etc. There was sufficient variety that I was able to ignore the unattractive, pink and skinny ‘things’ that were labeled ‘sausages’ and fill myself on other cooked items. Lots of blue cheese was consumed – regardless of whether it was morning or evening!  Enough of the food-talk, already!

Yes, our suite had a great view of the hotel’s courtyard and the ocean beyond.

The ocean in question is the Pacific; we were on the west coast of Mexico – in Jalisco, just up the coast from Puerto Vallarta. Taken from a few yards into said ocean, with my better half waving at the camera, this is the Riu Vallarta hotel, our home for 10 days.

Perhaps this will give a better view of where our Ocean-view suite - room 9038 is the 5th from the left on the top floor - see red dot.

We had been to a sister hotel (Riu Jalisco) - a few hundred yards north - 5 or 6 years ago, in September. At that time it was very humid – being in the rainy season there (though it only rained once in that 7-day trip). This time, our choice early November weather was better – no sign of the humidity but the temperatures were still in the mid to upper 80s F (about 29C for you ‘metric’ folk.)

It was far from crowded, so we virtually had our pick of the scores of sun-loungers on the beach

The sea water was so much fun – waves usually about 2 to 3 feet high and with a tidal rise / fall of about 7 or 8 feet, receding only 25 feet or so – not the ¼ mile trek out from from HWM to LWM that I was accustomed to back home in Swansea, Wales – which incidentally has the greatest tidal rise / fall (close to 40 feet) in the world – after the Bay of Fundy!

After enjoying getting bowled over in the surf, the two swimming pools offered a more secure place to waddle around in - in navel to nipple-deep water – or to lay on the ‘ceramic loungers’ half submerged at the edge of the pool, sit in the Jacuzzi enclosures or wander through the hordes of Canadians to the ‘swim-up’ bar and sit there on tiled stools – or beat a hasty retreat to where the pool water would likely contain less of the recycled drink fluids – if you know what I mean! This photo is from alongside the ‘swim-up’ bar -  in the bottom left corner. 

Here's a look to the 'swim-up' bar - 

Though it was a ‘registered guests only’ beach, there were a handful of ‘licensed beach vendors’ permitted to seek their luck at getting the tourists to buy their blankets, jewelry or whatever they had to sell. Fortunately, unlike in the nearby towns, these vendors were not persistent and a simple ‘No, gracias’, ensured that they left you alone. However, I could not resist the temptation to take the desire to be left undisturbed up one notch!

There were lots of beach-side activities at hand for the more energetic – from para-gliding, wind-surfing to boogie-boarding or kayaking. One 20-minute ‘aqua-aerobic’ session in the pool left me exhausted so I opted for the more sedate bocce-ball, darts throwing, horse-shoe-pitching and rifle shooting activities taking place among the palm trees – even winning first place in those latter two! I was however also enticed into a ‘sexy-dance and belly-flop’ contest. That I did NOT win – though I have a large enough belly to win with.

We took a trip out across Banderos Bay, passing on the way the cove where the famous movie, ‘Night of the Iguana’ (starring Richard Burton) had been filmed decades ago. Our trip took us to a private beach, Las Caletas where we could snorkel, kayak or float in inner-tubes in the crystal clear water.

I did the snorkeling thing, seeing scores of beautiful fish seen and taking in the odd mouthful of salty water down the snorkel pipe!  We watched ‘a paella-for-80-people’ cooking demonstration. Into a 3-foot diameter bowl, the chef loaded fish, squid, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, octopus – along with onions, garlic, peppers, rice and tequila!  A 20-minute guided walk up through the jungle led us back to our beach-side lunch where I made sure to avoid the paella (cannot stand sea-food – except Long John Silver’s codfish) but washed the other plentiful dishes down with a dark beer. 

In the shade near the lunch area: 

On the 45-minute boat trip back to port at Nuevo Vallarta, as we drank more cerveza and pina-coladas, we were entertained by Gene Simmons’ Mexican cousins:

Back at the Riu, after a shower (that always had lots of hot water, plenty of pressure – we were on the 9th floor, remember) or a lounge in the room’s whirlpool tub, we sat on the balcony and watched the activity below – and the colorful evening sky.

Most evenings, we dined at the ‘buffet restaurant’ or at one of the three ‘by reservation’ specialty-dining restaurants, sampling steaks at one, Asian dishes at another and gourmet dining (I had lamb chops) at the third. After dinner we sipped on pina-coladas and/or cerveza as we watched the nightly entertainment shows on stage – one was a Michael Jackson ‘knock-off’, others featured modern and traditional Mexican dance troupes - and a Mariachi band.

We usually rounded off the night by stopping at the 24-hour Sports Bar to pick up a cappuccino before heading back to our air-conditioned suite and a welcomed sleep after a full day.

The sun rose about 6:45 am (shining directly on to our balcony from 11:00 am until sun-set) and sank into the sea about 6:15 pm – usually with a colorful exit.

Viva Mexico!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

‘Ssh – it happens!'

¿Cómo estás?   Buenos Dias, Buenos Tardes, or Buenos Noches – depending on what time it is where you are now.

As if to underscore the title of this piece, I was to have written it two days ago, but I have been ‘under the weather’ – and frankly still am, but not to digress. ‘What prompted that Spanish introduction?’ you may ask.
Well, we just returned from a 10-day all-inclusive vacation to Mexico and though I have rid myself of all pesos, the sand in my clothes, I still have a few words lodged in my glottis – aside from the tickling back there and the annoying coughing fit every 15 minutes. But, I should not complain; as I said ‘Ssh - it happens!’ Oh well, you be the judge of whether the following is a litany of complaints – or observations!

We arrived at the airport in Puerto Vallarta at 1:00 pm last Thursday for our 3:04 pm flight to Houston and connecting flight to St. Louis – scheduled to arrive at Lambert Field at 9:14 pm. Ssh – it happens!  At 1:06 we were told United Airlines flight 302 to Houston would be delayed two hours. Well, with a 1 hour and 40 minute scheduled connection lapse, the Einstein gene in me told me that my titular selection was not just a platitude, or a forebearer of some future event, but ‘it was already happening!’  About 45 minutes later, when the procession of unhappy wanderers (anyone old enough to recall the song of the ‘50s that had an almost identical title?) had shuffled on, my moment of truth arose. ‘There IS another (later) flight to Houston’, the friendly Latina on the other side of counter said, ‘But no connecting flight to St Louis tonight. We can put you up in a hotel in Houston and have you catch a 7:09 am flight – manana!’ At that point, envisaging all the hell that a ‘night-over’ entails, not to mention the prospect of a 4:00 am awakening to get that flight, the fair senorita may have expanded here knowledge of gutter-English.  After my protestations, and the request (with a ‘demand’-tone attached to it) that she find me two seats on some other airline that would get me to St Louis on the same day that I every expectation of arriving there. Bless her little (well, judging by the rest of her, it would have been more ‘grande’ than porquito’) heart, United’s friendly Latina (and maybe Our Lady of Guadalupe – my wife has many such connections) were able to come up with an alternative. ‘Ole! Ole! Muy bien!’, I spluttered in a hackling Welsh accent.  USAir had a flight to Phoenix (a bonus; I had never flown over the Gulf of Baja before) with a connection to arrive at Lambert Field at 11:44 pm – a close call to pick up my car (or would it be a pumpkin by then?) at SkyPark.  No matter about that, the car is likely to be replaced in a year or so anyway!  So, happily, we shuffle 20 feet to the right to the USAir counter to get our boarding passes and to check our baggage. Their friendly Latino agent was sailing along wonderfully – until he said, ‘There’ll be a $20 baggage fee for each (of two) bags; how would you like to pay for that, Senor?’ See, I told you – ‘Ssh – it happens!’ Recalling an advertisement I had seen on a recent flight (one of those on the way to Puerto Vallarta 10 days earlier – stand by for that tale!) I leapt into action. The ‘ad’ [ineffective as an ‘ad’ – I can’t recall what it was touting!] had said ‘You do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate’. That Einstein gene quickly forced the utterance: ‘I do NOT want to pay the fee. Let them (United) pay it – they are responsible for me being at your counter’.  I should note: United did NOT have a baggage fee – just aircraft that they were unable to get into their ‘friendly skies’ on time!  After initial reluctance and probably never having faced such compelling logic before, ‘mi amigo’ smiled and waived the $40 fee. I felt that I had succeeded in thwarting the day’s mounting efforts to underscore this blog’s title. I had ‘bested’ any stool-binder the pharmaceutical world could produce. I HAD put the tooth-paste back in the tube.  Ole!

Success is short lived – well, it is in this blog anyway. I told you we had left for Puerto Vallarta 10 days earlier – on November 4th.  Not a bad itinerary really – scheduled United Airlines flight from St Louis at 8:15:a.m, with an 80 minute lay-over in Houston to arrive In Puerto Vallarta about 2:00 pm. Through check-in with no problem – no baggage fees either - pass through TSA unharmed (not sure what that TARDIS-like   machine does to one’s gonads, though); seated in boarding area with 90 minutes or more to spare. Announcement:  United Airline flight to Houston will be delayed due to a problem in Cleveland. OMG – WC Fields never liked that city either!  Apparently they had to wait for a crew member – overslept? still inebriated from last night? – who knows? A little while later, the delay time is announced – an hour or more!  Follow the bouncing ball now folks, all sing along:  ‘Ssh – it happens!’  Then a glimmer of hope – the earlier flight to Houston is about to leave – and has one vacant seat on it.  Should I send my wife on ahead, or should I be ungentlemanly and let her wait while I board?  Of course, it was a Hobson choice!  So we sat awaiting our tardy plane from Cleveland. It finally arrived. How was I to know it had been filled with 100 giant sloths draped in cold molasses? I have never seen such a dismally slowed disembarkation of a plane. It must have taken 20 minutes – but, as we all know – ‘Ssh – it happens!’    OK – on board, now, come on, let’s get going Captain! I’ll be lucky to make my Houston connection – only 45 minutes breathing room now. God knows if the bags will get transferred though!  Nothing to fear on that front – I was told we’d arrive at 11:10 a.m. – I think that person was related to someone in the Whitehouse! We touched down on the runway at IAH at 11:36 am; our connecting flight was to depart at 11:37 am.  I think you know the refrain by now!  Some non-Einstein gene (and hope that a compensating delay may be in effect) told me to scamper for 10 minutes like a banshee from one end of Houston’s airport to the other; I succumbed to the challenge and arrived, panting, at the gate. The damned flight had left 25 minutes ago. All those bumper stickers can’t possibly be wrong can they?  What to do?  The United agent gave a ‘Hmm!’ and a looming feeling enveloped me that instead of spending the night sucking on a Pina Colada on my Junior Suite’s balcony in the Riu Vallarta hotel that night, I’d be anguishing over a cheap Texas beer in some hotel alongside Houston’s IAH airport. The agent – who was vey jovial, looked like Arnold in Happy Days, was a genius – clearly this guy was passed over for the ObamaCare website construction!  In two minutes, he produced the antidote to this blog’s title. He booked us on a United flight to Guadalajara, where I did NOT dance the mariachi but got see to see a huge poster of home-town and Manchester United hero – Chicharito. (Javier Hernandez). From there, we took a flight on Aero Mexico (Aye-roh Messy-coh) into Puerto Vallarta, getting to our hotel about 5 hours late – but better than being stuck in Houston with a bunch of Gringos.

Well, there you – the back end and the front of the trip. Most things in between went quite well – temperatures in the mid / upper ‘80s, humidity not bad, only two brief rain showers. There was a fantastic variety of food items – all inclusive – enough to stuff carnivore and vegan alike. The clientele seemed to comprise about 60% indigenous folk, 35% Canadians, 4% USA and 1% other. The influx of Canucks – it’s still OK to use that term, eh? – must have caused the North American continent’s mantle to rise beneath the evacuated areas of British Columbia - and sink in the region of the over-crowded swim-up bar - where they seemed to remain from 8 am until the pool staff hauled their bloated inebriated torsos from the pee-laden water at 8 pm. I’m not sure any of them even knew there was a beach, palm trees and 3-foot waves pounding on the sands just 30 yards away. Doug and Bob, the McKenzie brothers, must have schooled them well aboot it, eh?  We did enjoy talking to a few of the older ones who had emigrated to BC from Scotland half a century ago.

In the midst of all that coming and going, I developed a very sore throat on Saturday night after returning from a snorkeling trip. Clearly suffering from an alcohol deficiency, you say, Right?  I remained with a chestiness, hackly cough and weariness – right through the remaining four vacation days; even until today. I hope I didn’t affect too may people; to spoil their vacation would have them also believing that ‘Ssh –I happens!’ I’m off to see my doctor (if I have been able to keep him) tomorrow. I think I have bronchitis.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus, and my belief in the adage ‘Ssh – it happens!’ was bolstered on Tuesday when my wife limped from the sea to disclose that she had been stung by a sting-ray!  The first aid guys removed the barb and poison, applied antiseptic and took care of her comfort over the next couple of hours. She became a minor celebrity but had to share the limelight with 4 or 5 others who similar mishaps in that 24-hour period.   

To end on a positive note, we thoroughly enjoyed the warm salty waters of the Pacific Ocean, the pleasantly cool waters of the two pools, the hot and forceful soft waters of our suite’s shower and jucazzi tub, the plentiful supply of ‘safe’ drinking water in the in-room refrigerator beneath the well stocked mini-bar. I can honestly say, it was careful use of that bottled water – even for rinsing away tooth-paste – that prevented Montezuma from exacting his revenge upon us. Our ancestors did nothing to your people, ‘Monte’ – so it is only fitting that we left in one set of circumstances where ‘Ssh – it did NOT happen!’  

If you enjoyed this little accounting, look back in a few days – for photographs. .