Once in a while, I get asked by hotels and resorts to pop in and review a property as a potential destination for a Eurocircle trip. This year I received an invitation from Palace Resorts in Mexico to be their guest, and spend a week in beautiful Puerto Vallarta. How could I say no?
So I dug up my sombrero, tossed my laptop into the suitcase, and rushed to the airport before anyone could ring my cell and find out I am not actually toiling away at my home office. This was going to be a working vacation, and for all intents and purposes, I was still billing by the hour, from a remote beach in Jalisco.
I have read from successful entrepreneurs and business gurus, that a four hour work week is not only possible, but an absolute a must for a creative and purposeful life. Though this is not my first excursion to a beach with a laptop, this is my first attempt to fake being in the office when I am not- a risky endeavor, but a must for any self-employed consultant. So armed with the latest iPhone international callings apps, wifi hot spot locators, a laptop, and an iPad, I landed into Jalisco looking like the stereoptypical tourist.
I was met at the airport by a driver from the resort, wearing a dark suit in 90 F weather (impressive), who bolted the doors of his S-class sedan explaining we were going to be passing through some unpleasant areas. I was a bit taken aback by this, but then I remembered what I learned from my previous trips to Mexico: if you want a relaxing vacation, you book a trip in a resort located in a designated tourist zone.
I remembered hearing on the news, that there have been multiple attacks on Americans in the region, including a recent decapitation of a tourist by a local drug cartel, but the hotel staff assured me that all that was overblown by the media. Carnival Cruise had cancelled all its landings in Puerto Vallarta just as a precaution, even though according to the locals there was nothing to worry about. Good to know.
Checking into the Palace Resort was a beautiful experience. I was greeted in the lobby by a tall, dark and handsome manager who offered me a chilled hand towel, a cold drink and certificate for a deep tissue massage while he was busy taking care of my paperwork. All was going smoothly, until he took my hand and slapped a black band around my wrist, the kind you get when you enter an all you can drink booze cruise. Oh no, I hate wrist bands. What is this for? Apparently, while I’m here, I will be inspecting the property and all services, and the band was to alert the staff that I am watching their every move. It also was a free ticket to any item or service in the resort. This was going to be fun!
My suite was a beautiful, ocean front haven with a jacuzzi, a useless high-tech media center I could not operate (electronics confuse me) and a fully stocked, may I say more than generous liquor cabinet and my very own bar. I was invited to select 6 bottles from the resort’s private cellar to be delivered to my room- and have to say the wine list was very impressive. It featured the best of Napa’s Chardonnays, Oregon Pinots like Doyenne Aix 2009 and Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon. Not one to drink alone, I settled for bottled water, and headed out to check out the beach.
Imagine pristine white sand, a setting sun and having the entire beach to yourself. The resort was absolutely beautiful, but I was feeling a bit disconcerted and couldn’t understand why. Everything was post card perfect, but something seemed to be missing. As I headed toward the ocean to take my first plunge into the waves, I stopped, realizing I would be diving into a sea of mud. How could this be? I’ve vacationed on the Pacific coast numerous times, and the water was always a vibrant blue, but all I could see here was miles and miles of brown. This did not look like the photos of Puerto Vallarta I had seen in magazines. But apparently, the ocean in PV is brown, especially at the end of the rainy season- something to keep in mind before you book your next trip.
Disappointed, I headed back to meet my hosts for dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants. The plan was to meet the managing staff, tour the kitchens, wine cellars and get an inside view of the property. I have to say, I was very surprised by the kitchen here. They staffed the best chefs from all over the world, each specializing in a different cuisine, from Parisian pastry chefs capable of producing the perfect macaron (not to be confused with a macaroon), to Japanese sushi masters trained at Nobu. Usually, offerings in resort kitchens are unimaginative at best. With hordes of tourists to feed, most do a mediocre job feeding the masses in an assembly line atmosphere. Palace is a little different. That’s not to say that they don’t serve tourists, but they truly do strive to be exceptional and create a memorable dining experience.
The next adventure was to trek out of the secure Hotel Zone, to check out the little town of Sayulita. It is a lazy little village founded by the first surfers who landed in Mexico and decided to retire here at age 17. You see them everywhere, the blonde, dread-locked, sunburned beach bums who live for the sun, the beach, and laze away in the streets, painting surfboards and smoking god knows what.
Amidst the brightly colored shacks, and charming little trinket shops, you’ll find Don Pedros, the first, and probably only restaurant in Sayulita. Known for its fish tacos and unforgettable views, this is a great place to relax with a Corona, a bowl of guacamole and watch the ocean from their vast, thatch covered terrace.
This is the place you’ll want to take your time, as the service here is slow in a very good way. While Don Pedros cooks up your tacos, you can kick off your shoes, dip your feet into the ocean with beer in hand (in my case a Sauvignon Blanc), and chit chat with the locals as they troll the beach looking for tourists to peddle their wares.
I was never a fan of fish tacos, having tried them on every Mexican vacation since college, always wondering what all the fuss was about, but I have to say that these are different. Simple, fresh, straight from the ocean local fish, topped with the most simple ingredients, and they were perfect.
If you are in Puerto Vallarta, and want to step out of the safety of the hotel zone, hire a car and come to Sayulita. You won’t find tourists here, just some lazy bums wasting away in “Margaritaville”. Isn’t that sort of the point of visiting Mexico anyway?
In all, Mexico was a nice break from the big city. Never my favorite destination, it is the perfect place to just chill. Charmingly, a vacation in Mexico is always imperfect. There are your periodic drug wars, tourist carjackings, American spring breakers and Montezuma’s revenge to spoil all the fun. Inevitably, if you come here often, you will experience at least one. But sometimes, imperfect is exactly the break we all need from perfect. Today, when most hotels and resorts strive to take away anything that could possibly remind us we are in a third world country (in this case second), it is nice to sometimes see the world as it truly is.