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Vallarta or Bust!
Christopher Codrington

The day I finally decided that Mexico was going to be my home started like many other days do: morning coffee, going over my schedule, reading my email, etc. I ventured from home to a friend's house to help him with a computer problem and had been slaving over a hot hard drive for an hour or so when a friend of mine walks in the door looking as though he had been "rode hard and hung up wet." I inquired as to why he looked that way and he explained that he was having more problems with his bar and was approaching the breaking point.

"I'm moving to Mexico," he exclaimed, "I'm sick of the BS!"

"I can relate," I responded, "I've been working on projects for corporate and those idiots have no clue what they want. I'm about to go postal!"

Both of us were essentially stressed out young yuppies, me a computer professional, Mark a bar owner. For the preceeding month he had been wrapped up in a battle to keep his bar from being closed down. A local mafiosa wannabe who had always been a little too big for his britches decided that the bar that Mark had built should be his. He had felt this way ever since he saw the success the place was having, becoming the upscale nightclub for the downtown martini set.

When he finally acted on his greed it came in the form of a setup. He planted three grams of cocaine in Mark's bar. It sat there, untouched, sitting on a silver platter as irony would have it,when the local cops stopped by to take a look around. (I wonder why they were there?) They quietly walked Mark out of the bar and arrested him for possession, Mark has never touched a drug in his life and passed the urine test, but the liquor board was still not amused.

"Puerto Vallarta is pretty cool," I commented, "My ex-girlfriend Heidi and I went down for Y2K and had a blast."

"So you wanna go with me, move to Mexico?" he asked almost jokingly.

"Yeah right," I said, "what the hell am I gonna do in Mexico? I don't think so."

He and I continued to talk about Mexico, him pumping me for what little I knew about this country. I finally said, "Hmm, maybe that wouldn't be so bad," Images floating through my imagination of senoritas and margaritas."

15 minutes later I said, "Let's do it!"

72 hours later Mark and I crossed the border at Juarez bound for Puerto Vallarta, having sold my car, cancelled my apartment lease, stored possessions I simply couldn't part with, resigned from Gateway Computers, Inc. and shocked the hell out of all of my friends who referred to me as the terminal yuppie rebel.

Colorado Springs had simply lost its charm and I figured if I don't do something reckless and stupid now when will I do it? If you have ten days to live, go to Colorado Springs, it will seem like seven long years. If you are alive for an as-yet-undetermined length of time, come to Vallarta...and bring your Visa all of us locals can snicker when you try to pay for dinner with it.

We couldn't have picked a better car to steal. It wasn't really stolen, just technically owned by Mark's parents. When the mess with the bar started Mark had to give his Mercedes SUV to his mom and downgrade to an Audi A4 Quattro Turbo, poor guy. (More on poor little rich kids in a future story.) The car was awesome; we packed it to the gills with our collective worldly possessions. The trunk was so stuffed we had to sit on top of it to close it like a suitcase in a cheesy '70s sitcom. The backseat was packed full of snack food, CD cases and other random stuff to the point that it had to be arranged behind the driver's seat in order to see out of the back window.

The trip down was spent in relative comfort, Mark and I were still used to having a lot of money so we stayed in American-style hotels and ate at restaurants with A/C and a somewhat effective hygiene policy. There went about two months of rent.

We drove straight through to the border at Juarez, a border town that roughly resembles South Central L.A.. I could see the fear in Mark's eyes as we drove through the mayhem that is Mexican late night traffic in a border town. We had gotten a green light at the border, driven through without even stopping and had no clue where the hell we were going. It seems that we had spent $400 on Pringles, Gatorade, Campbell's Chunky soup, a couple cartons of cigarettes and other junk, but only $4.00 on a map.

I managed to sort of decode a few of the street signs and figure out which way to go, but as we descended into the depths of that hellhole town we were still unsure if we were about to make a wrong turn and find out how border town Mexicans feel about rich Gringos in a shiny new European sports car. After 40 km we reached the real border. That's where we first got a taste of how some things in Mexico work.

The border cost us $575 in cash just to get the car across due to the fact that we had cashed out our bank accounts into travelers' checks and cancelled our credit cards. (With a credit card it's $16 US)

The first night in Chihuahua someone stole $1,500 US from our hotel room (that maid got a pretty good tip) and we once had to pay for a toll with an American $2 bill, something the attendant had never seen. Oh, and if you're in rural Mexico and only have traveller's checks be prepared to search all over the place for someone who will accept them.

The best and most exhilarating part of the journey was the drive between Durango and Mazatlan over the "Devil's Spine," hundreds of miles of hairy curves with no guardrails and shear drops for over two thousand feet. The people we spoke to said it would take 10 to 12 hours - we did it in the Audi Quatro in 3 and a half. The other thing everyone said was "good luck" and "don't stop the car for any reason whatsoever." When we finally reached Puerto Vallarta the huge anticipation we had felt at the onset of our trip had faded to simply a thought of, "Cool, we're here. Let's eat."

If you've ever tried to get a hotel room in Puerto Vallarta on the day after Christmas then just take my word for it - "It ain't fun!" In short, it is a royal pain in the ass. Neither of us spoke anything that resembled Spanish and had no clue, save for my vague memories from my trip the year before where to look for a room or how to not get taken.

Mark and I finally found a nice place at a decent price through Free Home and rented that for a month. When our money was gone, Mark split back to the States without paying me back what he owed, taking my snorkeling gear with him. Some people can't handle living here.

I made some friends, found a job and the rest is history. I have grown to love Vallarta for its quirks and subtleties. I won't be leaving here any time soon unless I go to the West Indies...but that's another story.

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