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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, January 22, 2016

ROAD TRIP Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

The morning began quite early for us. 5:30am, adjusted eastward two hours since our departure from San Diego. We showered and got ourselves ready for the day. Breakfast delivered a few minutes before the scheduled 6-6:30 window. Fortunately for room service I had donned my clothes before hearing the porter's soft knock at the door.

Martha's ready to go!
We departed the stateroom promptly at 7:05 and were pretty much the first people checking in with our guide on the dock. Martha, the very energetic and friendly tour guide from Vallarta Adventures, was trying to corral twenty two visitors headed into the Sierra Madre for what was (accurately) billed as an off road "Eco-Safari". Despite the promise of a rather rough ride and a three-quarter hour guided Eco-walk through the rainforest, the majority of patrons were several years our senior. The only younger participants were the tour employees and one of the ship's photographers sent along to document the adventure.

Dockside we were transferred into a small shuttle bus, which carried us a mile or so up the road for a rendezvous with the two Unimog military vehicles which would be our rides for the excursion. We piled in to the open air rear cargo/seating area and set off up the highway, immediately discovering that a) warm jackets were indeed a necessity, and b) any attempt at styling one's hair for the day was a completely wasted effort.

We shortly arrived at the town of Bruceria. 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest along the coast from Puerto Vallarta. Turning inland, we followed a dry riverbed which became consistently less dry the further into the mountains we drove. The makeshift roadway carried us up into the Sierra Madre, dodging the occasional wandering cow, dog or other driver until we arrived at a  locked gate, demarking public land from a private reserve. The riverbed became a very rough "road" from that point onward, but the terrain wasn't much of an obstacle for our driver or the Unimog. In fact, it should be noted that the driver would later slow down more significantly for speed bumps in a town than he did for the rocks in the riverbed's irregular terrain.

Martha takes charge!
Not that I'm complaining. It was a great deal of fun, though a few of the older members of our little Familia (as Martha labeled us) might not have been quite so enthusiastic about it. Pulling oneself up into the Unimog isn't a strain, particularly for travelers with canes. No overt complaints, though a few grumbles from the more fashionable travelers in our midst. 

Arriving at our first stop, the unimogs were backed into a side grotto, and we all disembarked for a moderate walk through the forest. Martha and Adrian, her partner/guide from the other vehicle, took turns explaining this part of the Sierra Madre's biosphere as we came along them, identifying dangerous plants to avoid, beneficial ones and the services they could provide, as well as a few small members of the forests fauna -- a large termite nest and several examples of the native ant species. The larger animals and bird species kept their distance, though we heard periodic vocalization examples of both in the distance.

Clambering back into the Unimogs the two-vehicle convoy set off back down the riverbed again in search of "Sarita's house". Within a few very fast-paced minutes as we raced across the rough terrain, slowing just once to ford a pile of rocks and sand that was daunting even for our military-grade transportation. I quickly labeled it a speed bump, which elicited an ironic laugh from my fellow passengers.

Sarita's house in fact was located in a compound located twenty or so
 feet above the riverbed on a natural hillock, across the way from a forty foot cliff face at a bend in the river. The two vehicles clawed their way up the  steep driveway -- dirt path, really -- and parked off to one side. There were four structures, with the house situated at the rear. A wood shed to fuel the large open air save and frying pan was off to the left, and to the right was a wood structure with a roof and open walls. Sarita was already hard at work at the oven, patting down homemade corn tortillas, flattening them on a press and slapping them down on the pan to heat up. Off to one side were an assortment of beans, avocado and rice for the tacos, as well as a sampling of local peppers to be tried at your own risk. Several of the group tried their hand at molding and flattening a tortilla, to various results. Sarita generously told everyone how well they did, regardless of actual performance.

After a brief and very pleasant visit we were off again, regaining asphalt after a ten minute drive down the remainder of the riverbed, slowly morphing itself into first a dirt road then an actual paved road towards the center of Bruceria, turning onto a larger highway for a smoother trip further up the coast and across the foothills to the picturesque seaside town of Sayurita. Echoing the more traditional city centers with its streets of shops, bars and vendors running down to a colorful and crowded main beach, Sayulita was a welcome stop enabling us to climb out of the Unimogs and wander aimlessly for a time before we again clamber up and head off for lunch at isolated beach over the coastal foothills from town. 


Martha serves lunch
Lunch was served on a beautiful seaside events building, overlooking a nearly empty beach. Heavy on the beans, carbs and tasty meats...and a blood red punch served optionally with or without Tequila. Given that the bottles of Tequila were generously left on the tables, you could choose your own percentage concoction, some creating a much stronger drink than others.

Unfortunately the time came, all too quickly, for the return drive to the ship. Martha delivered the bad news, and for the last time we dragged ourselves, now laden with lunch, up into the vehicles for the forty minute drive back to the port. Heavier, sun-tired and slightly the worse for wear, but much richer for the experience.

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