Treasures Of Mexico's Puerto Vallarta

Treasures Of Mexico's Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta lies in southern Mexico on the Pacific coast. We had been there once before, in 2019, and checked out its historical landmarks, sunny beaches, cuisines and gardens.

What were we going to do this time?

We decided to stay at the same hotel, since it was located right on the beach. Once we checked into the hotel, we went for a walk on the beach. Numerous such walks would follow: barefooted, feeling the sand in the toes, watching the blue waves crashing on the beach. The feelings they evoked were ethereal, tranquility personified.

I could have just done that and nothing else and felt that I had gotten value out of the trip. But, of course, there was so much more to do. Not to do it would be a shame.

One evening, we went out to a restaurant which we had not visited before. It was just a bit removed from the downtown area, and slightly up a hill. The roads that took us there were twisted and the traffic was its usual chaotic self, which we were not yet used to.

It did not conform to any of the rules that one follows unknowingly in the US. Vehicles crisscrossing each other at high speed, changing lanes abruptly and paying no regard to pedestrians who wanted to cross the road even at traffic crossings. Of course, the pedestrians were seasoned natives, unbothered by the chaos.

When cars were stopped at a traffic light, they would just weave through other cars to get to the other side. Somehow it worked. It reminded me of the traffic I had seen in many developing countries, including Egypt, Jamaica, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. It also brought back memories of the traffic in Karachi, where I had lived in the 1960s and ‘70s.

The new restaurant suddenly appeared after a bend in the road. It was called Iguana, and had once been the house of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who had starred in the movie Night of the Iguana. We were seated on the second floor. The layout was amazing. Our table was next to a window, from which we could see the sun setting over the ocean from one side and the Sierra Madre mountains on the other side. They rise to a level of 3,000 meters quite quickly. We did not have time to check them out on this trip, but made a note to visit them during a future visit. They are covered by a lush rainforest that serves as home to a large variety of plants and animals.

Once dinner was served, a Mariachi band appeared, in full regal attire. They regaled a person on another table whose friends and family wanted to celebrate his birthday.

On another evening, we went to another amazing restaurant, La Palapa. We had eaten there during our first visit. It had beachside seating and an unbeatably glorious view of the sunset. The food was great, and service was efficient and friendly. The encore performance was amazing.

Not too far from our hotel was the Marina Vallarta. We decided to walk there. Lots of beautiful boats were docked in the water. Signs alerted us to the presence of alligators and said that swimming was not safe. We walked around the Marina and visited several of the shops that lined it. At some point, we sat down for a light lunch at an Italian restaurant.

The waiter had no local accent and I asked him why that was the case. He said he had grown up in Southern California and his Spanish stood out in Puerto Vallarta as he spoke, even though he was a native of the area. The conversation shifted to how languages evolve. I said I had visited Saudi Arabia several times and discovered that if you did not know a man’s name, you simply called him Muhammad and you would get his attention. He said in Mexico if you felt you were not getting a woman’s attention, you would simply call her Maria in a derisive tone and get her undivided attention.

Across the street, nature was putting on a performance. Iguanas had appeared and were sunning themselves. My eyes spotted a large one. I asked the waiter if it was safe to approach them. He said, yes, but don’t get too close to them. If they are threatened, they will hit you with their tail. So, I ventured out with my iPhone and took a few pictures. They looked amazing!
One thing that we did not do was to go on a whale watching cruise. They were quite expensive, but afterwards I learned that they provide some of the best views in the world

The following day we went off to see the famous Cathedral of Guadalupe. Mass was underway so we decided to check out the Naval Museum, which we had missed the last time. It had several exhibits on two floors. They were quite modest in comparison to the exhibits I had seen in the US. To be honest, I didn’t even know Mexico had a navy, since it had never made the news.

Among the many exhibits, there was a poster which showed how the US had taken away more than half of Mexico by military force. I had seen a similar poster in a museum in the US state of New Mexico. I was anguished. This was the same US that was so worked up today over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was the same US that had launched the Gulf War to evict Saddam Hussain’s Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. Such were the ways of the world.

Not much had changed since times immemorial: might was right. It reminded me of a cartoon I had seen in the Wizard of Id series: who has the gold, makes the rules.

We grabbed a bite to eat in a casual restaurant facing the beach. Swarms of tourists were strolling on the boardwalk and checking out the shops that were anxious to sell them local handicrafts. We also checked out the shops and, for a change, bought nothing. Then we headed toward the Cathedral. The service was over. We went inside, paused and reflected on the purpose of life, and admired the artwork that decorated the walls. It was indeed a splendid place of worship.

Then came the day I had waited for. We took a taxi to the Botanical Gardens. They were an hour away, the road was bumpy with numerous curves including a few hairpin bends, and it also had several speedbumps. Portions of it went over cobblestones that had presumably been placed there to evoke ancient Rome.

Once we entered the main gate, all those troubles were left behind. It was as if we had entered the gardens of heaven. There was a beautiful church atop a small hill, the plantings all around us were incredibly colourful and picturesque, a gentle breeze was caressing our faces as we walked around them. Then we went upstairs in the visitor center to have a light lunch.

The weather was perfect, and the views through the windows were simply beyond words. Just as lunch was served, there appeared a man with a musical instrument. He asked us where we were from. We said San Francisco and then he began to serenade us. What more could one ask for?

The gardens are a gorgeous 64-acre oasis of spectacular flowers, plants and trees. They are also a haven for birdwatchers from around the world, but that would have required time that we did not have.

Something else we did not do was to go on a whale watching cruise. They were quite expensive, but afterwards I learned that they provide some of the best views in the world. We have made a note of that for a future trip.

All in all, this was a fascinating place to visit. Any doubts that I had about being bored by visiting the same place twice in three years had vanished by the time we boarded the four-hour flight back to San Francisco. We returned with a treasure trove of memories and a desire to return to check out the attractions we had missed.

Dr. Faruqui is a history buff and the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Routledge Revivals, 2020. He tweets at @ahmadfaruqui