PVR 6.0

Apparently I cannot count. Today is not day 6, tomorrow is. Oh well, I’m not going to go back and renumber everything now. But part of me wants to!

Down for breakfast early again today, as the staff were just getting set up. Most of them probably had a late night last night, but not one of them showed the slightest sign of having over indulged. Coffee rated an eight on my ten point scale, which I just instituted today.

I cringe whenever I see someone open the glass doors to the restaurant by placing their hand on the glass. The staff spend all day wiping off the prints. No wonder they jump to open the door for you! I am very careful now to only touch the handles. There is a young man on the staff, Marco, who we see everyday cleaning the mirrors in the elevators, and polishing the stainless steel doors. He must have the temperament of a saint. I would go berserk on my first day, and they would never get the bloodstains off.

We both thought it would be a nice day to walk on the beach, as it was cool and would likely be quiet all morning. Caroline quickly decided the sand was uncomfortably cold and chickened out. I set off to walk as far towards town as I could manage, and made it to the south end of the designated turtle hatchery zone. I soon found out it was much warmer to walk at the edge of the surf, where the warm water had taken the night chill off the sand.

I waded through one of the little rivers, and that’s where I stopped to photograph these birds, which I assume are egrets.


There were sandpipers, too, and pelicans, but they didn’t let me get close.

Got caught by a wave on the way back, and thoroughly splashed to the waist. I did see it coming a few seconds in advance, but was not quick enough to escape, or quick-thinking enough to hurl my smartphone to safety on the dry sand. Luckily, the phone was not affected, but I dared not return it to my saltwater soaked pocket.

Back to the hotel to check in with Caroline and get a change of clothes. Napped until the maid came, then bailed out and went to sit with C at the cabana. Over lunch, we decided we would like to get a proper look at the south side at least once during this trip, so unless the weather turns rainy, we are going to take a cab downtown in the afternoon, walk around a little, and go to the Cafe de Olla for supper. I didn’t think they would be open today, but their website doesn’t say they’re closed, so we’ll go see.

Only a handful of restaurants still remain from our first visits to PV. Pizza Joe’s morphed into an art gallery years ago, Puerto Nuevo came, prospered and went. Cafe Adobe burst onto the scene in a flurry of great reviews but faded away again just as fast. Same with the Argentine place. Last year, we noticed that Tres Huastecas is still going, as were Andale’s and a few others we used to eat at. The Choco-Banana lady turned into a kiosk. Let me rephrase that. The Choco-Banana lady turned her business into a kiosk. Sometimes writing is more fun if you don’t stop to think too hard about the grammar!

More after supper.

PVR 5.1: Una Navidad en Mexico

Our Christmas plans this year were modest, but I am reminded of another winter in Puerto Vallarta when we were invited to join a Mexican family for La Navidad.

We were staying in a small hotel on the south side, the Suites Claudia, which has just two suites on each of the six or seven floors, plus a penthouse suite at the top. As Christmas approached, all of the American guests checked out, and a pair of large black SUVs with tinted windows appeared in the parking lot.

To my surprise, one evening as we were getting ready for bed, there was a knock at our door. A young man asked if I spoke Spanish and explained that his family had taken over every room in the hotel except ours to unite for the holidays, with half of them coming from Guadalajara, and the rest from Mexico City. Did we have plans? Would we care to join them on Christmas Eve? I had enough Spanish to stall, saying I would have to talk to my wife.

We spent the next day asking our expatriate acquaintances if this invitation was genuine, or merely a polite way of warning us that there would be a noisy party in the building. It was sure to be sincere, we were told. Hank and Conrad were especially insistent that we should go. They had spent many winters here, and have scores of Mexican friends, but had never been offered such an invitation.

At somewhere around ten or eleven at night, we made our way up to the penthouse and knocked. Despite trying to guess what qualified as fashionably late here, the party had not even begun. The women were all in the kitchen cooking, and a teenager was sent running downstairs to fetch the two university students with the best English. Most of the parents and young children were destroying pinatas down by the pool.

This young man and woman sacrificed most of their family time to be our host and hostess, and I learned more about Mexico that night than in all my other vacations combined.

We were introduced to everyone, even the bodyguard. I assume that’s what he was, he was huge, he was wearing a powder blue sport coat in sweltering heat, and he usually stood where he had a clear field of fire across the sunken living room. When we embraced, I tried to tell if he was carrying a pistol. He probably returned the courtesy.

We spoke Spanish, they spoke English. We couldn’t discuss anything with subtlety, but it got the job done with the minimum amount of confusion. Mostly.

“Is it true that no-one in Canada gets married?” the young lady wanted to know. I was baffled, and then I realized that what she wanted to know was whether anyone waited for marriage to have sex. This must be what it feels like to be from Sweden. At the time, I did not know any Canadian, male or female, who married as a virgin, but I chose an answer that I hoped was more diplomatic: “Everyone gets married… eventually.”

Close to midnight, she asked us what our religion was, and whether we wanted to stay for the religious part of the evening. I told her I was Church of England. My private school educated me that way, back in the day. Then I had to explain the Church of England. Just like Catholic, I said, except no Pope and not so much Mary. And all because Henry VIII wanted a divorce.

This led to the Spanish Armada, by the way, which was conceived as a plan to kill Elizabeth I, Henry’s heir, and bring Britain back under the papacy. A woman on the throne of a major power? Surely that has to be some kind of sin! But I digress.

There were hail Marys. I do not know if they were in Spanish or Latin, because the languages are quite similar, but I fondly remember the patriarch of the family looking up from his page of devotions periodically to straighten the candle of the little boy who was standing in front of him. Most likely a great-grandson. No point spoiling a holiday with burns, after all.

After this came the ritual of Joseph and Mary. I got the gist of this, but I hope anyone with more familiarity will forgive any errors in my interpretation. The penthouse suite had an enormous balcony, spanning the whole building, and huge folding doors in the master suite, the living room and the kitchen that opened onto it. A group went out onto the balcony and the doors were closed. At the first door, Joseph pleaded, in song, for a room at an inn for his pregnant wife, but was turned away. At the second door, he pleaded for shelter at a (humbler?) inn, and was turned away. At the third door, the inn had no room, but welcomed the couple in to shelter in the stable. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Then the entire party was divided into two rows, with men on one side, facing women on the other. I feared we would be expected to dance. But wait, it gets better. I was handed two corners of a baby blanket and shown how to hold them. Caroline, across from me, was given the other two corners. A porcelain baby Jesus was produced and laid in the blanket between us, suspended above the marble floor as if in a loose hammock. This china doll looked to me like a family heirloom, probably brought all the way from the city in a lot of packing material. I did not care to contemplate the consequences if I were to cause it to fall on the hard floor. But wait, it gets better. As guests of honour, Caroline and I got first crack at rocking Jesus to sleep by swinging him in the blanket. Everyone else sang a lullaby while we did this. I was concentrating on my sweaty grip. But wait, it gets better. We had to hand him to the next couple, without stopping the gentle swinging motion. Somehow, Jesus and we survived, and the little guy went all the way down the line. By the end of this, I knew the words to the lullaby.

Then the little doll was passed around so that we could all kiss him and be blessed. One little toddler didn’t want to do it, so after giving her a little time while others took their turns, they came back and tried to interest her again. Nope. They didn’t push the issue. Jesus is a pretty forgiving kind of guy, after all.

It was a relief to sit down and be offered something as simple and safe as eating while sitting on a couch. The food was not like home. There was a broth of fish to start. Perhaps it represents the disciples or something. There was a fruit salad, made with sweetened condensed milk. There was something that may have been chicken in molé sauce. It may have been something else entirely – it was probably what all the mortars and pestles in the kitchen were used for. It was one of the spiciest dishes I have ever eaten anywhere. It made my palate swell. It tasted like tobacco leaves in habanero sauce. I smiled bravely.

A while after dinner, we made our excuses and left this generous and welcoming family to keep each other company. But what a wonderful gift they gave us.

¡Feliz Navidad!

PVR 4.0

If I was sticking to any kind of real system for titling these posts, this would be PVR 5.0 as I am writing it on Day 5. However it is about Day 4, and should have been written and posted yesterday. Be glad it was not, for it would have been truly grumpy!

Yesterday did not go well. Not in any terrible way – we didn’t miss a plane or get hit by a bus. In those small ways that rob you of life’s little pleasures. All day I was plagued by weak coffee. I concede that this is a “first world problem” of the most banal order, but still. The coffee here was so good last year! I should have bought a barrel and had it shipped to Canada. I could have pumped a cupful out of it every day. By now I’d be down to the sludge at the bottom. Heavenly! Every time I lifted my travel mug yesterday it was like drinking warm dishwater. One of them was so bad that I took it back to my room and poured it down the sink. Which promptly clogged on the coffee grounds. How they got so many grounds in it without infusing some flavour escapes me. Even the stuff at the actual coffee bar where I do my writing wasn’t much better.

There was a mix-up over the poolside cabanas. They were still able to accommodate Caroline in one she likes, so it was just the awkwardness of the double booking and all the fussing and apologizing. The cabanas are really just little gazebos that provide adjustable shade for two lounge chairs and a little table. They provide no protection against the family next door that struggled to discipline their little boy for trying to drown his little brother over his failure to share toys. I was spared overhearing it, but I gather the consequence for this transgression was the cancellation of his acquiring a toy he wanted, with the additional requirement that he explain which of his actions brought this penalty about. He was apparently very reluctant to put it into words, so perhaps this is an effective deterrent. I think perhaps I could approve of this kind of parenting, but I prefer to disapprove of all parenthood on a blanket basis.

We walked to Wal-Mart after breakfast to buy Caroline some walking shoes. The shoes aren’t perfect, but they are better than flip-flops for walking. It will also give her something other than sandals to wear for the return trip to Winnipeg. It’s forecast to turn cold again the day we go back.

My homework was a challenge. I had to constructively criticize some samples of professional writing by renowned authors. Since one of the samples made me angry, one left me cold, and one baffled me, this was difficult. Some decent coffee would have helped!

Dinner was a trial. Many of the poorest TripAdvisor reviews of this Hilton call attention to the overabundance of Mexican food at the buffet restaurant. I think A) this is absurd by definition, and B) the Mexican food is excellent. However, last night the theme appeared to be Tex-Mex. Our Mexican cooks seem to be perplexed by this cuisine. Hard shelled tacos pre-filled and served cold. A variety of fajita fillings, but only corn tortillas to put them in. Gristly spare-ribs. I am not kidding when I say the coleslaw was the best thing to touch my plate last night. Caroline forlornly made three attempts at the buffet, returning each time either empty handed or with something she could not bring herself to finish. Eventually she resorted to the pizza put out in the kid’s zone. It was doughy, and she ate only half a child-sized slice. The best she did was a tiny bun with some cold meat and cheese.

Adding to the misery of this meal was the blaring country music. This was our first clue that the strangely bad “Mexican” food was actually strangely bad “American” food. I am not a Tanya Tucker fan, leaning more towards ZZ Top. If the music wasn’t enough to drive me out, a big family sat near us and promptly got all over my last nerve. They were feeding their six kids cereal for supper, and complained to the wait staff that the bowls were not clean enough.

We fled to our room. I was in no mood to be my usual cheerful blogself. It is hard to be tongue in cheek when you are grinding your teeth. Cheered myself up by reading a chunk of Destiny’s Blood, rollicking good space opera by Marie Bilodeau, who is one of my tweeps. I plan to finish it while I wait for Caroline at the hair salon this afternoon. So far, I would confidently recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Star Wars.