January 18, 2022 81°F/27°C
The wide sand beaches and opulent resorts here in Puerto Vallarta on the Bay of Banderas (bay of flags) draw thousands and thousands of tourists each year, even during Covid, and really are beautiful – but beaches are not really our thing (except as places to walk along, in slightly cooler weather).
There is a large expat Canadian and American community here, which means that English is widely spoken and understood. Of course, it also means that big chain stores and restaurants have invaded – there’s a Walmart right across the street from our cruise port. Our Shore Excursion Director shared the information that 278 of the 517 people on board took advantage of a 1 hour shopping trip to Walmart today. That was mind-boggling to us, but then we’ve never been here before, and we know that probably most of our fellow passengers have visited multiple times. On a side note, the Walmart “dress code” that was shared during our Port Talk was hilarious!
To be fair, few on board had the dubious “advantage” of coming from somewhere cold, so they don’t have warmer clothes for our revised itinerary. Nonetheless, Ted and I had a bit of fun imagining Karine Hagen narrating a Walmart excursion for a Viking ad. As eloquently imagined in the words of one of our fellow travellers, Robert Rothley, “An epic, unforgettable, culturally immersive experience bringing together the manufacturing wonders of China and the far east with one of the most representative retailing experiences of Southwestern Mexico…. A once in a lifetime, unique complimentary Viking opportunity, specially and exclusively curated for our discerning 2022 World Cruise.”
We’re still operating in a Viking “bubble”, so there are no independent shopping trips or exploration allowed, but lest you think that is just Viking being strict, you should know that each of the countries we’re visiting also impose rules on what we’re allowed to do in return for the privilege of docking. We’re all behaving ourselves so that we can arrive in each port with no Covid cases on board, and be allowed to disembark.
For our tour, we were excited to don hiking shoes and head a short 40 minute drive inland to the Sierra Madre Mountain foothills to eventually reach La Dulce Vista, a countryside hacienda beside a beautiful river canyon. The advantage of this kind of tour is that it takes us out of the tourist mecca into “real” Mexico, where little villages are covered in dust during the dry season; horses are just as regularly used as cars; roadside stands and tiny mercados replace big grocery stores; dogs, chickens and children provide the music; and the natural scenery is breathtaking.
Once off the bus, our tour guide Freddy took us on a 45-50 minute hike into the foothills, pointing out interesting trees and plants, and sweeping vistas. Rodrigo, our tour assistant, followed along with his machete – “just in case” of jaguars, wild pigs, or snakes (really just the latter, and maybe a few encroaching plants).
Climbing up the mountainside on foot was not difficult, but the bus ride back down….. wow! The narrow roadway is cut into the side of the mountains, unpaved, and features lots of hairpin turns as well as a spectacular drop on one side that made me want to lean in the other direction in my seat in order to “help” us stay on the road.
The reward for surviving our hike and the harrowing mountain drive back to the hacienda, besides the scenery, was a stop at a local hot spring where we refreshed ourselves with margaritas, and then a tequila tasting, and a grilled lunch of beef, chicken, vegetables, rice, tortillas … and more margaritas.
The tequila tasting was really interesting. La Dulce Vista makes their own small-batch organic tequila. It was explained to us that it takes 4-6 years for the blue agave plant to reach the stage where it can be used for tequila, but commercial growers use chemical fertilizers to speed up the growth process for higher yields. Additionally, because the 2-stage distillation process yields only 35 liters of tequila from 100 liters of agave juice, many manufacturers dilute the tequila by adding unflavoured alcohol. Not here! We tasted tequila reposo, the pure unflavoured tequila; tequila blanco, aged 3 months in new wooden casks; and tequila añejo, “aged” tequila, which had been allowed to sit in wooden casks for 3-4 years. The most surprising thing to me about all three was that there was absolutely no “burn” when drinking them – they were perfectly smooth. Our favourite was the añejo, so we bought a bottle to take home to son #2. It should be a treat, since it is not available for sale anywhere except at La Dulce Vista.
We returned to the ship needing a siesta (pre-noon tequila will do that to you!) and the option of a Mexican-themed dinner in the main restaurant (guacamole, Spanish tortilla, and tres leches cake) or Tex-Mex in the World Café. We opted for the latter, mainly for the chance to eat outside under the full moon and the stars. After beef chili burritos, chicken fajitas, blue corn chips with tomatillo salsa, and a couple of Palomas (tequila with grapefruit juice), we got our tres leches cake too!
Tonight’s guest performer was Malaysian sensation Andrew Lee, an illusionist, mentalist, and magician who managed to impress Simon Cowell with his knife-wielding skills on Britain’s Got Talent in 2018. No photo tonight…. he’s just an illusion (groan).
Another wonderful day. Tomorrow is a the first of four leisurely sea days en route to Puntarenas Costa Rica. I’m sure there will be lots of events – both educational and culinary – planned to keep us busy.