Monday, May 4, 2015

Touring Puerto Vallarta - Hidden Mexico

Our second tour with Vallarta Adventures was entitled Hidden Mexico and included six activities plus the bumpy adventure of riding Mexico's rough roads in this crazy vehicle, called an open-air Mercedes Benz Unimog, driven by Nary, who I hope was completely familiar with the capabilities of these vehicles, because he seemed like he was taking the turns on the narrow roads pretty fast.  Anyway...

The first stop was the Botanical Gardens.  We had read about these and thought about going on our own, taking city busses.  We actually walked out to the gas station at the edge of town where one could supposedly get the bus.  The busses were somewhat labeled but not clearly.  We decided to leave it to the professionals.
Robert Price and his mother Betty founded the Vallarta Botanical Gardens in 2004 after realizing the need for conservation and environmental awareness in the area. Bob was specifically concerned with the numbers of orchids that poachers were taking from the nearby jungles to sell commercially.
He envisioned a place where orchids could be propagated and displayed without depleting the local populations. The Garden opened to the public in 2005 and has been flourishing ever since.

The garden specialized in orchids, but the most amazing plant was the jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), hanging in huge clusters of unique green flowers.

They used the flowers to decorate our glasses of jasmine iced tea.

The gardens weren't very large, or perhaps they were larger and we just didn't have time to visit them long enough.  They were filled with wonderful tropical plants and a nice building with a lovely view down the mountain to a river valley.

Oh before the Botanical Gardens we visited some petroglyphs, but rocks in a field don't do that much for me.  The best part of this little adventure was the exchange between Ari and her mother Marian the librarian over the lack of bug spray.  ("MOM, it's OK!)"  We had bug spray, which we leant to them, but I still got bit about 10 times.

The next stop was at a roadside stone-oven bakery, a family-run business producing these wonderful loaves of filled bread.  There were all kinds of jam-like flavored fillings, plus some ham, cheese and jalapeno.  They were delicious and I regret not buying a whole bag of them, at only 5 pesos each.  Apparently local families all buy bread from this roadside in addition to the tourists.  I hope so, as this seems like a tough way to make a living.


And then there was El Tuito. 
El Tuito was founded in the 16th Century at about the same time as the mining towns and Talpa de Allende. However there are no mines or Virgins (at least the religious kind) in El Tuito.  What it does have is grazing land and water and it was on a major Spanish road that ran from Barra de Navidad to EL Cuale and Mascota. The famous Manila ship that came once a year from the Philippines would unload some of its cargo at Barra before continuing on to Acapulco. El Tuito could supply fresh pack animals, food and water to the travelers.

It's hard to describe El Tuito.  Despite the higher elevation, it was HOT.  The roads were somewhat paved.  Aside from the church, the buildings were nondescript. As a 16th century village I expected old stone houses like we've seen in Italy and France.  It was not like that.  It could be that the primary building material was adobe, which is not a long-lasting material.  Our first stop in El Tuito was the home of a family of artisans.  The family had some cows and made cheese, and they served us tortillas, fresh cheese and salsa.  They were so friendly and gracious, serving their freshly-made food in the back yard, with their little cow just on the other side of the fence.  That's our guide Abraham showing us how it's done.

Then we visited the workshop where the husband and father made things from rosewood, like vases and mortar and pestles.  I would have like to buy something from this hard-working family, but I really don't want to acquire stuff at this point. 

Marian the librarian did buy something, which was nice, and thus we got to try some raicilla.
Raicilla is a distilled spirit, originating in the south western portion of the Mexican state of Jalisco, and pre-dates the arrival of Hispanic people in the country. It is similar to Tequila and Mezcal as it is also a product of the agave plant.
Like tequila and mezcal, it pretty much tasted like alcoholic cactus.  Next we visited the town hall, which was mostly for the purpose of using the bathrooms.  They did have flushing toilets and running water, but just barely.  Along the way we passed several civic offices.  Everything was dark and plain.  That's what struck me the most.  There was hardly any color or decoration anywhere, just hot stone, cinderblocks, wires, some trees.  This restaurant did have a colorful awning and tablecloths.

The church was very colorful, and in fact looked like it had just received a fresh coat of stucco and paint.

Inside it was a little plainer, but still colorful and very familiar as a catholic church.

The most colorful part of town, by far, was the cemetery.  We drove there as it was a little ways down the road and up a hill.  I meant to ask why the graveyeard was not collocated with the church as I would expect, but it could be there wasn't the available land.

Many of the grave sites were  quite elaborate.

I wish we had more time in El Tuito, the place was fascinating.  I would have like to discreetly walk up and down the streets and try to get a better glimpse at life in this town.  As we were leaving town we did see children getting out of school.  It was early but evidently the day ends early, about 12:30, for school children here.  They were being picked up by waiting moms and walked home just like anywhere.

Finally, it was time for lunch.  The tour really outdid itself on this aspect.  We had lunch at the Villa Azalea Inn & Organic Farm, a luxury hotel about a half hour outside Puerto Vallarta.  They served the fresh and delicious lunch in the river behind the property, of course accompanied by an open bar, with fruit mojitos being the specialty of the day.

This was such a unique experience.  The river was mostly less than knee-deep and very clear, with little fishes swimming by.  This freaked out some people.  I found it delightful.

Once again the time was too short, but there was so much jammed into this tour.  The final stop was at a tequila distillery.  The Don Chendo distillery had the distinction of being the only distillery on the hill. 

After tasting seven different tequilas (I tool small quarter shots, as the amount of alcohol being consumed was beginning to be alarming) we were free to buy (we didn't, we can get tequila in the US) and left pretty quickly for our ride back to town, but not before I had a chance to play with Anjelica the burro.

The truck was able to drop us off downtown instead of at our starting point way north near the port and airport, which was convenient for getting dinner.  We went back to the Margarita Grill because it was so good, and once again got the molcajete-prepared salsa.  I didn't mention this before, but there is live music at the Margarita Grill and it was good, if a bit non-traditional.

This tour was amazing.  I cannot say enough good things about Vallarta Adventures, our guide Abraham and our driver Nary.  I wish we could have spent more time in the gardens and in El Tuito, and lingering in that river with more drinks would have been fun, but as it was, we were gone all day.  But I'm so glad we did this and really did get a glimpse into a part of Mexico one would never know existed if you just hung at the resort.

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