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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTravel & Outdoors | February 2009 

Gone Coastal: From Guadalajara to Barra with No Reservations - Part 2
email this pageprint this pageemail usJan Baumgartner - PVNN

A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a freelance writer dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico.
Barra de Navidad y Melaque

We caught an early morning bus for the coast, and actually enjoyed another soothing few hours on the road, passing through breathtaking scenery surrounding the city of Colima - a landscape punctuated by heathered violet mountains and jagged volcanic peaks jutting into clouds and fog, then turning at once into a tropical paradise lush with mile after mile of coconut palm and banana plantations. After a brief stop in the port city of Manzanillo, we were off to our dart on the map, Barra de Navidad, a small 17th century harbor village on the Costa Alegre, some three hours south of Puerto Vallarta.

We arrived a bit ahead of schedule getting off in the middle of town, a small cobbled street in Barra, population 5,000, a wave of hot humid air hitting us like a bucket of bath water. In wet jeans, we stood still and dripped, deciding whether to lurch left or right. An elderly gringo clad in what looked like a belted loin cloth from Survivor L.L. Bean and with a breath already smoldering with noon tequila, approached us. When he heard we arrived without reservations he laughed at our naiveté; it was high season after all, the weekend, this small vacation paradise would be tighter than the proverbial Botoxed forehead. He suggested the motel where he was staying and parted with a "good luck."

As fortune would have it, we did find rooms, well kind of. The first hotel we approached had only one room available, but we needed a second. After much discussion and nervous looks ricocheting back and forth between the front desk clerks, they confirmed they did indeed have a second habitación. Upstairs, in the back and off the street, was a dark cave-like space, above the door an old sign read "reception." We knew it wasn’t the office but more than likely an employee crash pad cum broom closet cum brothel, but it did have a bed and a bathroom, kind of. The lock on the bathroom door had been ripped off and the door kicked in, but again, there was a mattress. Greg, being the good-humored amigo that he was agreed to the broom closet. "Hey," he laughed, "at less than fifteen bucks a night and a block from the beach, I can’t complain. Now let’s get the hell out of here and find a beer before I change my mind."

A pristine strip of white beach, prehistoric rock outcroppings rising from the sea, crashing surf frothing off a turquoise arc of bay, and cold cervezas served to us while we sat on the sand, made thoughts of stifling humidity and a foreboding dungeon hitch a ride on the back of a pelican who glided off, dissipating into the horizon.

If It’s Tuesday, We Must be Siblings

Next stop, Melaque, a more rustic, laid back version of Barra and known for its old hippie expat population. We hopped the local bus for the 5-minute ride around the soft sweep of the bahía. I had seen the hotel website online. Not only was I captivated by balconied rooms overlooking near empty beaches, but the website showed the owner smooching with their pet raccoon and in living color, the resident macaw - and a more handsome macaw I had never seen. An animal lover, how could I resist a balcony looking out to sea, empty stretches of coastline, Celadon green waters, and rooms teeming with wildlife? We had no reservations but as we had found, the slumping U.S. economy was wreaking havoc on Mexico as well, hotels and restaurants nearly empty during the height of the tourist season.

The 15 room hotel, however, was nearly full. There was one room left said the gracious owner, a beautiful middle aged Mexican woman who had her hands full with guests, cooking, bartending, kids, and the pair of resident macaws who perched at the entrance, side by side atop the wrought iron archway, greeting visitors with either a loud screech or an unwelcome splat. We opted to enter off to the side, not taking any chances walking beneath the feathered welcome wagon.

The place, funky, quirky, but a lovelier spot we would not find, posed a problem. "We really need two rooms," we said. "Oh come on," the owner smirked, "let me show you the room, then you decide. Besides, there are two beds." This was not a situation we cared to be in. The top floor room was perfect with French doors opening onto a balcony that seemed to float across the beach and sea and a sky filled with pelicans, cormorants and terns.

"I don’t know," I shrugged. "Why?!" It was killing her not knowing what are problem might be. "He’s my brother," I lied. "No he’s not!" she insisted. "Well, we’re just friends," Greg chimed in. The language barrier was posing a problem. "C’mon," she blurted, not buying any of it. So, we opted for the truth, "Well, we’re not siblings but he’s the husband of my friend who couldn’t be here and he didn’t want to travel alone and my friend suggested I come along, and..." By the look on her face, it was obvious that the truth sounded far more salacious and disgusting than the litany of previous falsehoods, and now weighted with way too much information, hands on hips, she shrugged, "Well then?"

"We’ll take it," we said. There were two queen beds separated by a partial wall and a bathroom, each sleeping area affording limited privacy. Splitting the sixty dollars for a lovely room with a breathtaking view seemed like a good plan. We’d deal later with the issue of sharing a bathroom that had one small interior window that opened directly at the head of his bed, and things such as snoring or any other abrupt sounds that might rip through the still evening air surrounding two near strangers in a small stuffy hotel room on a humid stretch of coastline. Thank God there were fans near each bed.

Hotel Buena Vista or a Mexican Version of Colette’s Tale Bella-Vista

Unlike Colette’s characters in the hotel along the Mediterranean sea in Bella Vista, the clientele at this small Melaque establishment did not appear to be a mix of transvestites, bird killers and fugitives on the lam. This small group looked more like hard living, fun loving AARP gringos who over the decades had had too much sun, a tad too much tequila, smokes and pot, their combined cigarette chain smoking creating what looked like a constricted fog bank just in front of the hotel.

The complex, a maze of interior and exterior stairways, arched halls, nooks and crannies, and strange antechambers, reeked of weed. The pervasive aroma of marijuana packed a punch, a bite as pungent and as thick as the salt spray and heavier than the sultry coastal air. Walking the grounds, I felt like a mop stoned out of its stick. I didn’t know whether to drag myself across the tiled floor or stay upright, licking the cool stucco walls.

And all the while, I was being stalked by one horny macaw.

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