Thursday, December 9, 2010

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

In the Fall of 2006, a couple weeks after we got married, Michael and I flew to Jalisco, Mexico. We had gone back and forth for quite some time on where we would be spending the week of our honeymoon. In the end we decided we wanted more adventure than a few lazy days laying on the beach, and I got busy researching.
What I found was the city of Puerto Vallarta - it's culture still rich and preserved, a town center with cobble stone streets and beautiful Catholic churches. All surrounded by the lush Sierra Madre mountains.

We booked an 8 day, 7 night trip to an all inclusive resort in the hotel district. That was our first, and only mistake of the trip. Looking back, we spent next to no time in our hotel, and barely even ate there. Every day we set out in search of new adventures, and this is the story we came back to tell.

For $5, we could take a taxi from the hotel district to the center of town, where we spent most of our free time. It was my first taxi ride ever, and our seatbelt-less cab proved to be less than comforting as we raced in and out of traffic, dodging pedestrians and mopeds along the way.
On the boardwalk we found beautiful art and sculptures displayed, with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.

And we found Our Lady of Guadalupe, the stunning Catholic church I had seen in so many photos, and couldn't wait to see in person.

In the center of town, we felt like flies on a wall. Here there were no sunburned tourists, waitstaff, and beach vendors. It was just us, lost in the middle of a city that was bustling with so much life and energy that it felt like it could just swallow us whole. The locals spoke to me in Spanish, and asked us if we were newlyweds. "You look too happy to have been married for very long."
And in the middle of this city I did nothing but watch, learn, and memorize every smell and sound and the way it all just worked together fluidly.
95 degrees, in a dress, on my hands and knees in pigeon poop was the best place in the world at that very moment. I wanted to remember each and every character in this story, like the old man that walked up slowly with a bag of bread, who turned and walked away just as quietly as he had come.

We wandered farther into the streets until we were the only ones that didn't walk those streets every single day. We ate from food vendors on the street, drank $1 margaritas at a bar, and questioned the quality of the open market butcher shops with no doors or windows at almost 100 degrees outside.
It was my first time out of the country, and I was in love with everything I was feeling. We don't have very many opportunities in life as adults to experience something so new and raw for the first time - consumed by equal parts fear, curiosity, and sheer determination to dig deeper and farther into what we are feeling.

When the sun would start to go down, we would take a taxi back to our hotel every night.

The beach was the most quiet at those times, and we would make our plans for the next day. It was in those sweet nights that we spent on the beach that we experienced something so breath-taking that I could never find the words to describe it again.

One night while we were walking on the beach, I started to notice that every footstep I was taking was glowing. Thinking I was going crazy, I had to stop and make sure that what I was seeing was really true. We'd later learn that on that night, we were surrounded by plankton called dinoflagellates.

Algae that glows bright blue along the shore. We spent so long that night, digging them up in the sand, watching them float out in the ocean, and catching little bits of glowing light on our fingertips. It felt like home, and our sleepy Summertime fireflies.

Restless with our 8 nights stuck at the hotel, we began to notice loud bass, fireworks, and buzzing life miles away, in the town center.
So one night we set out looking for something new and exciting, having previously been timid to venture into the locals area at night.

The town center was alive at night, and there was no other word for it. While we had spent 3 nights stuck at our hotel with the other tourists, dining in their cheesy restaurants and listening to paid entertainment, life was happening just a $5 taxi ride away.
The streets were full of food vendors, entertainers, musicians, artists, and performers. It was loud and people were laughing, shouting, and dancing late into the night. We ate at a restaurant by an open window that served queso made from goat cheese, and realized why we weren't enjoying the American/Mexican food served at the hotel.

For the next couple days, we wanted to explore even farther from our hotel, and decided to board a catamaran that would take us along the coast.

The city was beautiful from the outside looking in, and we kept sailing forward for another hour until it all disappeared into the thick vegetation of the surrounding mountain range.

We came to a small cove where we would be snorkeling for the next couple hours. I had never been, and was scared to find myself suddenly in the middle of such deep water. The fish were amazing. Every color of the rainbow and every shape and size imaginable. The salt burned my skin and every minute spent in the water felt like tiny little ant stings that I learned to completely ignore in my efforts to preserve every memory we experienced that day.

On another day, we traveled to Nuevo Vallarta. The ride was long and hot, with 8 of us in the back of a large military truck. It took an hour on the highway before we started to reach the small towns and again found ourselves surrounded by the culture that we were looking for.

The people and children here were so shy, and reserved. I felt intrusive and out of place.
We were back in the truck in no time and traveled to the countryside. Our next big stop was a trail in the Sierra Madres, where we would spend a couple hours hiking. First we stopped at the home of a woman with a small, outdoor kitchen.

She made us fresh tortillas by hand and I wandered around her land, imagining what her life must be like. One tin roof, no plumbing or electricity, and a huge tequila plant. I guess for her, life is just simple.

We were refreshed and ready for our hike. Along the way I saw some of the most ridiculously terrifying spiders I had ever seen....and I'm not even that scared of spiders. We met a young boy and his horse, and I pretended like I was in the Ferngully Forest. It was sticky, hot, and incredibly humid that day.

Our last stop was Monterrey Beach. It was a small, private cove owned by a Mexican family. Standing on the beach, you could run across the entire length of it in 30 seconds and that was it. Tiny, secluded, and surrounded by lush, tropical foliage. The sand was dotted with gold flecks, and as the tide crashed down on the shore it looked like a flash of light and sunshine so bright it was almost blinding. We were the only two people in the water, and waist deep when Michael spotted the first sting ray. He was out of the water in 5 seconds flat but I stayed, searching for shells, until I got a cut across my butt cheek from a string ray swimming by.

We spent a lot of time in the ocean, on this trip. My heart is by the sea, and the weightless feeling of knowing that something consuming you is so out of your control that you could be gone at any minute.
We swam, boogie-boarded, and kayaked into the waves.

My favorite day of our honeymoon came when we traveled by boat to a small fishing village called Yelapa. It is only accessible by water, and no roads will take you to or from there. I imagine a portion of it's small population has never even left.

It took us about an hour to get there from our hotel, and when we arrived the locals flooded the beach to help us.
It only took about 30 minutes to walk through the entire town. We passed small businesses, homes, beautiful gardens, and more stray cats than I had ever seen. I guess if you're going to be a stray cat, a small fishing village in paradise is the best place to be.

The end of our trip took us to the waterfall at the back of the town. We stopped for a drink and I thought about the people we saw in Yelapa. I felt a nagging sense of sadness, but I didn't know why. For some reason they seemed lonely, quiet, and lost. I was 23 years old and at the time I didn't know a lot about life other than going to college, getting a career, and buying a home with a white picket fence. Years later, I can look back on this trip and understand how my memory of it has shaped who I am today, and what I consider to be a good life.
The people of Yelapa were untouched, intact, and naive to just how hectic and full of static life really is on the outside.
One of Michael and I's favorite stories is one that reminds me of this day, every time I hear it. And when we do, we remember the line-dried clothing, bare feet, and stray cats.

The best part of traveling to a place where everything is unfamiliar is coming back, knowing that it has shaped a small piece of who you are. This was the trip we needed to take. The 8 days we spent, two weeks into our marriage, teaching us lessons about what our priorities in life really are.


Ashley said...

I love Puerto Vallarta. We usually stay in Nuevo Vallarta but the town of Puerto Vallarta is so pretty. Great pictures! Makes me want to go back!

Anonymous said...

I always knew I wanted to travel to South America, and this is exactly how I want to experience it. So when I'm ready to go, may I come to you for advice on where to go and what to do? :)

That story is so touching. Thank you so much for the reminder of what life should be about. And thank you for sharing another adventure! I'm going to save this so I can look back on it. :)

That Girl in Pearls said...

GREAT photographs!! I went to Puerto Vallarta a few years ago on a family trip. As sweet as it was to go to a resort, there is NOTHING like seeing the real country. This is definitely the right way to experience it. Although I have to admit the bottomless margaritas were kind of nice :)

Hope you're doing great, Love!

Kristina said...

Beautiful photos! Wonderful WONDERFUL story about the fisher. Love love love. :)

Alivia said...

Lovely, as per usual. Thanks for sharing! It must take you so long to make these wonderful, art-filled posts!

katy said...

Beautiful! Sounds like such an amazing honeymoon. I love that story at the end. It's so true. It's those meaningful moments that make life worth living, never the money. Reading this post, a song came into my head(which I knew you'd appreciate) "We Danced Anyway" by Deana Carter.

Victoria said...

You captured your honeymoon so beautifully. You have such an amazing sense of the world. I hope to someday have the same regard for the things around me.

Sarah Katie said...

this just makes me want to move to mexico even more. i want to go someplace warm and carefree.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing these photos and your memories! It sounds like such a beautiful place and I love that you got to experience the real culture! Makes me want to travel more and more!

Perfect honeymoon!

Manu said...

When I was about 14 years old I met a llama shepherdess, living with her husband in the middle of the Andes mountains and it really changed my perspective, but it took a while, though. Those huge little moments and people are priceless. Besos!

Kathleen said...

i want to eat those tacos. now.

Anonymous said...

Jalisco, Mexico is a wonderful place! Its soo enchanting, I am so happy to see someone else who love Jalisco as much as I do! It is so different there and I wish I could go more often but sadly I can't. Life is so laid back and it just feels so homey. Ohh I do miss being there. Stay away from Guadalajarra though that is a very bad place. Very dangerous.

Jenni Austria Germany said...

that's it, i want to go on a honeymoon right this second.

Carol said...

Aura, I just love your blog and this post is so beautifully written. I would love to visit these towns now...maybe someday :)My honeymoon was in Lanzarote, off the West Coast of Africa, it was perfect:)

siniann said...

Beautiful.. truly beautiful. I have never been in such a place, never had opportunity to leave europe and see the world like that. I'm hoping to have this kind of trip someday.

a little black cloud in a dress said...

I used to see the little glowy things on the beaches in hawaii all the time! I love all of these pictures. I've been kinda bummed out that our next vacation is going to be a cruise, because I'm an explorer, and I know I won't be able to really get a feel for the palces we're porting in in just a few hours. :[ But I'm really excited to go to the beach, certainly after seeing all of these pictures.

Amanda said...

This was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous! We went to Ixtapa, Mexico in April and wandered through the city's streets outside the resort and your pictures totally brought me back. I'm glad you displayed the life there, outside of room service and planned events. It really is special.

Kim said...

What perfect timing, I just booked a 7 day trip to Puerto Vallarta in May last week! This makes me that much more excited. I'm a bit nervous however that I dont speak a lick of Spanish, I guess a little studying is in order! Beautiful pictures!

Aura said...

Thank you, ladies.

Hollie- We were so claustrophobic on the cruise we went on in February '09. We still had a ton of's the beach and sunshine and no stress! But we definitely did not fulfill out urge to explore and vowed to never do a cruise again.

Kim- If you plan on heading to the middle of town and exploring I would definitely learn a few basic phrases and keep a little pocketbook with you. Just a block away from heavy tourist areas people don't speak a word of English, so it's beneficial to know a thing or two. I took 5 years of Spanish in school so I had some underneath my belt. I'm actually taking a Spanish class for my husband, right now :) It's nice to brush up on it, because I love the language.

Amanda said...

Beautiful post and photographs. Reminds me of our travels to Puerto Rico where my husband is from. We don't spend much more than a day in the "touristy" areas, I much rather soak up the local culture, eat at the roadside/beachside food stands and see the island.

sarah {on the brightside...} said...

a truly beautiful & inspiring post! amazing! & the photos are so stunning! thanks for sharing them with us! :)

simone leblanc said...

your photos are amazing!

ErinElizabeth said...

I studied in Xalapa, Mexico for 3 months, and was (and still am) 100% completely in love with everything about that experience. Your gorgeous photos and words take me back to those days, and I'm right back to feeling that the precious dreaminess that la vida mexicana is to me. So I just wanted to say Thank you :o)

Anonymous said...

hi Aura! I love your blog! Your photos are beautiful!

Daniela said...

I Find your blog so inspiring. I've never been to Mexico even thought Im from South America, and to see it thru your eyes is just amazing!
lots of Love

Anna said...

That is the kind of life I want. Enough to get by and satisfy my family's needs. What a great story.

Mice Aliling said...

I want to go there :) The photos are absolutely stunning. It already tells a story :) Beautiful honeymoon.

tea with lucy said...

such a beautiful collection of pictures (as always!)

Ella said...

That is absolutely beautiful!

Also, I'd like you to know, I featured your blog as one of my favorites. You can check it out at

Have a beautiful day!

vic said...

You have such a beautiful sense for life! Very inspiring, thank you for taking the time to share it with the world.

mama hussy said...

memory lane is a place I pack my bags and float down VERY often, since getting pregnant. OUR lives as mothers go on hold IMMEDIATELY when having a baby. Getting pregnant was a time of pondering this new change. and I would say, adjusting to this change takes a lot of time. Visit the past often!! It is where you will find yourself! until that times come when you learn how to continue on your quest in growing and evolving as an individual. Until then, you will invest ALL OF YOU in this new little person, it is a weird time, but SO rewarding... I am still adjusting, haven't quite figured out how to invest in myself as an individual just yet.
You are incredible, Aura!!! Love your story and I know I will continue loving all of your story! It is a beautiful one!

Notes from Holly St. said...

That last story gave me true and beautiful.

Meemo said...

As always... beautiful words, beautiful photos.

Kelly said...

Aura: I love to read your blog--it's like reading a poem or a short story....I've been a follower for a few months--first time to comment...:) Me and Kent are coming up on our 3rd anniversary and we too vowed no more cruises... We did an all inclusive for the first time last year--loved it but didn't get to experience/venture out because we went with another couple (bad idea)... Lol Anyways.. We too have being thinking about Puerto Vallarta. Would you mind giving me your advice on how you would go about finding a place that was not all inclusive and that was not so touristy but safe to stay?? We too enjoy hanging with locals.. eating/drinking with them. Amazing trip pics!!!

And by the way, you are absolutely the most photogenic person I know... :)

Sorry for the lengthy comment... but if you have time can you please either leave me a comment or e-mail me at

Kelly @ turned UP to ELEVEN! said...

This sounds like an amazing honeymoon and I love that you did something completely different. You didn't live in the resort for that week, you explored and lived the entire time!!! ox

Freckles said...

Oh this place looks so amazing, beautiful photos - I especially love the ones where you can see the houses by the water. Absolutely amazing.

Felicity Snow said...

OMG these pictures are so beautiful! Congrats!

Felicity-Los Cabos Hotels-Hotels in Vallarta