Welcome to the land of enchantment, the beautiful “Bay of Flags”, or “Bahia de Banderas” as it is known in Spanish. Geographically it is the largest Bay on the West Coast from San Francisco to Panama. It is forty miles on its circumference, and twenty between its two points, as well as twenty miles deep. The open end of the horseshoe faces West. This fact makes it a barrier for hurricanes and it was a sweet water stop for Spanish galleons on their quests northward. Indeed many local legends and rumors have it that certain merchants in digging their storage cellars unearthed doubloon treasures from pirate ships.
Certainly the area was desirous, as the climate here is unique to all of North America. The backdrop to the Bay is a wide valley whose AMÉCA River divides the state of Nayarit and Jalisco as well as delineates the transition from Mountain to Central Time zones. The North and especially the South of the perimeter of the Bay is ringed with mountains which soar to six thousand feet within a kilometer of the shoreline. This feature distorts the night time traditional subtropical climate so that while daytime temperatures reach into the high eighties, the offshore night breeze descends cool air, which is further cooled, through “adiabatic effect” (the expansion of air as it flows out of the widening valleys). What all this means is that Puerto Vallarta enjoys high daytime temperatures but pleasant, cool temperatures conducive to easier sleeping without the aid of noisy, smelly and unhealthy air-conditioning. Neither Manzanillo to the South East, nor San Blas or Mazatlan to the North West, can boast this fact, indeed it is unique. The temperature of this coastal region actually has mean temperatures in March of 73F (22C), 82 (26C) in June and September and 74F (23C) in December. However the mountain influence belies these signposts, as in effect a climatological fault exists here, which renders this area temperate but with sub tropical vegetation. These facts will not be found in any tourist publications or Government papers.
Most of these agencies are selling the “country” whereas our bias is with the “Pirates” who knew a good thing and settled on this particular spot in this Bay. The effect is very local to the extent that the larger Hotels, which extend out into the valley, are un-influenced by this phenomenon. The zone affected is really from the city limits (read SHERATON HOTEL) in the North to Boca de Tomatlan. Visitors from ACAPULCO, five hundred nautical miles south, remark most often on this desirable trait of this the most beautiful Pearl of the Pacific resort.
Vallarta is situated on the Western-most end of the Central Time zone. Across the AMÉCA river in the state of NAYARIT (where there are number golf courses and one more under construction), is Mountain Time. The airport is oriented parallel and south of the AMÉCA River, perpendicular to the beach so that the noisy jets take-off West (over the adjacent Nuevo Vallarta and Marina area) towards the sea. This means that the sunsets, which are magnificent, see the sun sinking into the sea justifying the boast that a ‘villa on the hill’ is the way to live.
The ride into town is a brief 4 miles and one passes the many grand hotels known as “tourist tanks”…to the Villa crowds. Apart from the lush growth and profusion of Bougainvillea the most startling feature of “PEE VEE” is the cobblestone streets. The whole municipal area is made of cobblestone or interlocking bricks with some ordinary pavement on the arteries. In recent years, now that the famous “drenaje” (sewer pipes) have finally been laid, the Federal Government awarded Vallarta, along with the honour of being the cleanest City in Mexico three years running, a grant to retain the cobblestone look. The compromise to allow a permanent type road surface with the “cobblestone look” was achieved with a great deal of controversy but I frankly think they did a great job. The tradeoff is we can no longer tolerate drunk driving, as the speeds on these new roads are not restricted to 12 KM/hr as before. Alas, progress. Indeed the papers are full of accidents that we didn’t have in the past. Progress is relentless and does carry a cost.
One great cost is that I have to wait several days a year now to get an updated “view shot” for our brochure because of the haze and pollution; as with any valley facing the sea, (Vancouver & Los Angeles for example), is considerable. Diesel buses belch their sulphurous fumes into the second floor restaurants, which combat the onslaught with fans cleverly pointed outwards. Oh for the day when I first arrived. There were but 45 cars in the entire town! Progress is double edged in the new millennium. Remember the jokes about the “water in MEXICO”. Well consider that now it’s very coveted as it’s a mountain stream that cascades down from 6000 feet to be collected under 80 feet of gravel and pumped to several reservoirs (our feed at CASA ANITA is from a covered reservoir). Check this revelation. Since 1993 the city water drawn from the taps in Puerto Vallarta has been deemed potable. Interestingly enough the cruise ships now take on water here in deference to Los Angeles I’ve been told. How’s that for revenge, and not MONTEZUMAS.
Welcome to the NEW MILENIUM… Question everything and everyone. Fifteen years ago, when the water myth was popular, who would have suggested that we’d be shopping phone companies every month. Today, Guadalajara (the capital of the state of Jalisco) to the East and situated on the plain formed by the Sierra Madre Occidental boasts, along with its thinner air (5000-ft altitude), the best climate in North America. Puerto Vallarta boasts the best coastal climate, or is a close second I reckon. Indeed Puerto Vallarta was ranked (January 1999) the sixth most popular destination in the World and the first Latin American destination while enjoying the position of the forth most popular beach destination in the world.
I have often mused about the chance of the Spaniards in passing this port by for the mosquito-infested port of San Blas? What if the important West Coast outpost of San Blas had been Puerto Vallarta or Las Peines as it was called at the time; North America may well have been totally Spanish-speaking now, a colony of Spain! Far fetched you say, well consider the type of correspondence that would emanate from San Blas if you were the Intendant, cursing the mosquitoes and swatting them as you wrote your reports to send back to SPAIN (…the amount of gold found when juxtaposed to the incredible living conditions one has to endure make this expedition less attractive). Or consider the same report filed from Las Peines….. clean fresh water in a large sheltered Bay with easy escape in the face of a superior force attack and a climate that is exemplary with no flying insects make this an ideal outpost to launch the predestined incursions north to the area known as California and Oregon. Abundant game and minerals close at hand with friendly natives most willing to gather and carry materials to our barques…. Consider this and it doesn’t seem so far fetched now does it?
Therefore don’t wonder why this sleepy fishing village has been propelled to such eminence so quickly. The answer is simple and two fold, in this order. A) The climate, and B) the friendliness of the people. (Remember this, it’s on the exam for sure) The name Puerto (port) and Vallarta (Ignacio L. Vallarta a famous Mexican GOVERNOR) are a little hard to pronounce. Consequently, many refer to Puerto Vallarta as PEE VEE but these are tourists, who can be forgiven. Unfortunately many of resident types also do this but they who haven’t made the effort to learn the language are more ignorant than they give themselves credit for. God if they knew what they’re missing. Never have I heard a Mexican call it PEEVEE. Similarly one hears of L.A. and San Fran. but not usually by the genuine residents. Actually Spanish is a very simple language where every letter and hence syllable is pronounced as it sounds with the exception of double “LL” (and therefore the problem) which is pronounced “Y”. It follows then that one should say PWHERE-TOE …VYE-YARR-TA. Want to try Jalisco? Its “Halisco”. Actually besides the J, which is pronounced like “H”, the H is not pronounced. Remember that and you’re half way there. It is a genuine sign of respect to attempt to speak the native tongue if even a word or two. It may get you that shawl a few pesos cheaper, or at the very least, reward you with a pearly, tortilla-tooth smile.
Really, you know many Spanish words already but don’t think of them. Tortilla is one, Taco is another, and how about Adios,…vaya con Dios? (Go with God). When you think about it, you’d be surprised…Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina means GOOD AIR so how about Buenos dias or buenas noches (good day, and good night). In the appendix we have supplied some key phrases, which if you make the effort to try, will increase your enjoyment of this and other vacations. The virus is in the language and it’s highly contagious and euphoric. To catch it, all you have to do is reply “si” to the question “Habla usted Espanol?”. See the appendix for further idioms etc.