There’s always something nice about being near the coast, and our next few days was to see us cut across to San Blas, then snake south along the coast, taking in Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo, before finishing in Acapulco (where we’d then cut back up to Mexico City).
Mexcaltitan had given us some down time to read a bit more, and the more we read of Acapulco, the less it sounded more like our kind of place (more a cruise ship, high rise condominium, package tourist kind of place), so quickly our route was revised.
We’d instead finish this jaunt along the coast with a couple of days in Zihuatanejo, before heading to the capital via the colonial city of Morelia.
San Blas had some charm.
Despite apparently having been earmarked for development by the Mexican government for many years, nothing of that nature seems to have yet taken off, and an air of sleepiness remains over the place (perhaps that could also be a reflection on the fact that is also still the low season).
Now despite our month and a half already spent in Mexico, we’d still only seen ruins in Real de Catorce (and nothing pre-Hispanic), so when I heard there was an old Spanish fort on the hill that overlooks the town, I was eager to take a peek.
Having just consumed a few quick tacos, a heavy shower appeared, so we returned to our hostel in search of shelter.
Within minutes of passing, the sun was back out and the air began to steam. Lovely indeed!
It was a bit of a walk, but until the necessary climb up to the fort, the town was thankfully flat. Annoyingly, as soon as we began the ascent to this higher ground, we also began to encounter a lot of mosquitoes, almost as if they lay in wait, ready to ambush!
I’m sure you can imagine what a pleasant climb it was, with us slightly damp, the sun hot, the air sticky and us slapping at mosquitoes left, right and centre!
There was an old church on the approach to the fort which was quite impressive, which, although lacking a roof, for some reason had had its floor repaved…
The fort itself is purportedly where Spanish gold was counted, before it was shipped off to other Spanish colonies in the Americas or the Philippines (or even all the way back to Spain).
Unfortunately, any charm it may have had was spoiled by the untactful placement of a small museum, gift shop, restaurant (which was closed), and many large overblown historic photographs of the town.
At least the views of the town and along the coast were impressive.
We were eager to finally dip our feet in this side of the Pacific Ocean, so began an afternoon trek out to the nearby Playa El Borrego, the beach in closest proximity to town.
Side by side along its shores stood many thatched restaurants which, whilst fuller than expected given the sleepy feel of the town, I’m sure would be buzzing a lot more at other times of year.
We were quick to kick our flip flops off, and head towards the water to get our toes wet… in what was uncomfortably warm water!
Surprisingly, there were many locals paddling about, but to us it felt like wading in soup, so we quickly decided to retreat and grab a cool beer from one of the restaurants (we eventually decided to dine there as well)
Although the water was warm, it certainly wasn’t the worst way to finish our afternoon.
Eventually, the skies began to darken, so we beat a hasty retreat back to town, hoping to beat what looked like some heavy rains to come.
It literally wasn’t a moment too soon, as seconds after walking through the door to our hostel, the rain began pounding down, and didn’t cease until well into the dawn of the next day (we even attempted to Skype my parents, where only mum was home, and could barely hear one another over the rain).
We rose again to sunny skies however, and before checking out, took a detour to de Juan Bananas, a bakery specialising in Banana Bread (listed in our Lonely Planet as the best Banana Bread in the world of which we were a little skeptical), to grab some supplies for the bus trip to Puerto Vallarta.
Selecting a Banana/Coconut Loaf, it certainly was delicious, but certainly not what I’d title ‘the best in the world’.
Nevertheless, it was enjoyed and we washed it down with a half litre of cold milk (we even had some left for the next bus journey on the Zihuatanejo).
It was a picturesque cruise down the coast on another, over air-conditioned coach, to the small city of Puerto Vallarta.
Being a city that is served by many cruise ships, we’d set our expectations low (the fact we could only find a couple of hostels to select from also caused alarm).
We were pleasantly surprised to find our hostel in a lovely, green valley, with hills rising on all sides, and a gushing river nearby that ran all the way down to the shoreline.
To reach the main part of town, we essentially followed this river, and although it was a much more touristy place and there were larger developed condominiums hugging the shore to the north and south, our part of town wasn’t so bad.
It was also nice to be able to again indulge in some Tacos Pescado as well, which formed our late lunch/dinner.
Our hostel itself surprised us as we arrived (the complimentary beer was appreciated, but wasn’t the surprise), as being used to seeing few other travellers, this place was housing about 15 English girls (and a couple of English guys).
I turns out they were part of a volunteer program run through a university back in the UK. They didn’t seem overly friendly, although we did eventually converse with a few of them (perhaps they were sad, as they were, like us all leaving the following morning).
Puerto Vallarta did dish up another surprise which we stumbled on too late to properly enjoy further (although I’m sure my waistline is the better for it). A small shop called ‘Pie in the Sky’ which as the name might suggest, makes pies and tarts.
We chose one to take with us on the next bus trip, a Coconut Cream Tart.
When we decided to sample it pretty much as soon as the bus pulled out of the Puerto Vallarta bus station, it was instant regret (that we didn’t buy more).
This thing was delicious, all the more memorable, as it wasn’t expected here in Mexico. The pastry and custard were light, the custard with a subtle hint of vanilla, and the coconut cream was delicious!
Now there was a bit more to this trip, than the journeys to either San Blas or Puerto Vallarta, as Zihuatanejo was about 15 hours distant. This was going to be an overnighter!
Unable to find a proper supermarket, we’d stocked up on foods (mainly junk, although Sarah’s discovery of Salt & Vinegar crisps was a welcome addition to our travel larder) to see us through the afternoon and evening. We figured with a 4am arrival, we’d be able to find breakfast at our destination.
It wasn’t the bus companies fault, however this became our worst overnight journey of the trip to date.
One of the on board toilets failed at some point (fortunately for Sarah, unfortunately for me, it was the male toilet), so it was a horrid discovery on a bouncing bus to discover it couldn’t flush, with every bump causing the bowl to slosh… you get the gruesome picture!
I eventually resorted to sneaking into the female toilet when required after the sun set.
The journey itself (which fell on my birthday), with many winding corners along the coast, made sleep difficult, before finally, a few hours short of our destination, the rains again struck.
4:30am saw us lying on the hard floor of the Zihuatanejo bus terminal, trying to grab a few minutes extra sleep as we waited for the sun to rise (we got moved by the cleaners during their attempts to mop on a couple of occasions).
The Zihuatanejo (pronounced Zee-wah-ta-nayo, I sing it to the tune of munch on Muncheros) sky did eventually lighten at about half seven, and with the rains also ceasing, we began the walk into town.
It was a gloomy, but warm morning, and after walking the couple of kilometres into town and checking into our hotel (one fortunate thing about this low season travel, is most places are that quiet, we rarely need to wait until the allocated check-in time), we decided to head out to find some breakfast.
As usual, there wasn’t much happening at this early hour, although at least on the waterfront, there a few people about and restaurants were starting to open up.
The first real hive of activity we stumbled upon was the fish market, where the various morning catches, were being spruiked to a handful of shoppers and restaurant chefs (we later discovered there is also a market held later in the afternoons as well).
We walked the foreshore for a bit longer, before settling on a place called La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) for a ‘birthday’ breakfast.
Okay, we didn’t choose it because it looked indulgent, but simply as it had the most interesting looking menu (many of the options looked very generic, each with almost identical menus).
It sounded interesting, so I went for an option that was fried eggs over rice, fried plantains with a red sauce (and a hash brown on the side) as well as a Coco Malteadas (Coconut Milkshake).
Judge for yourself, but it was pretty tasty, and the milkshake was delicious (I even had one the following morning).
We decided to then head back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.
Intent on some snorkeling later in the day, we figured it prudent if we had any intentions of staying away much beyond 6pm that night!
Fast forward to about 3 o’clock that afternoon, and you’d find us down near the main pier, purchasing tickets for a water taxi to take us across the harbour to Playa Las Gartas.
Wandering out onto the pier, we noticed two other couples, also clutching tickets for the boat, so we all hung together and waited.
Some young gents on the pier called over a nearby skipper, but he refused to take anybody… and so did the next!
This began to get annoying, and another opportunistic captain, also loitering on the pier offered to take people for 10 pesos more than the ticketed price (this we refused on principle)!
Eventually, all of us went and sought a refund, as another skipper also offered us to ferry us across, at the same rate as the ticket.
With little other option, we accepted (at least it was the same price) and at the other end agreed a return time, only paying half to ensure he’d return for his remaining pesos!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great snorkeling experience.
Despite assurances that this side of the bay would be okay, the water remained very murky after the overnight rains.
At least it was refreshing, and afterwards we were able relax with a couple of nice, cold beers.
The following morning we woke to clear blue skies, and before long you can add heat to that mix!
It certainly made for a much more photogenic stroll along the waterfront, where, as already alluded, we dined for breakfast at the same venue as the morning before.
Much of the waterfront walk, which followed at points, paths built alongside the rocks, showed a great amount of weather fatigue, with many concrete poles broken, chain links rusted away, and even in some places, sections had collapsed due to water erosion!
Feeling fatigued, we opted against another day of snorkeling, and so followed a day of rest (I caught up on some blogging as well, whilst Sarah dozed), with little else to note until dinner.
We did finally get to sample a local specialty, Tiritas.
Essentially a local twist on ceviche, it was no less delicious, enjoyed especially with the salted crackers as opposed to the usual tostadas.
It was a nice way to finish our time on the coast…