Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bilbo and Agnes's Marvelous Vacation - Part 4: Puerto Vallarta

We were up early on the morning of November 16th as the Star Princess glided into the harbor of Puerto Vallarta. We had booked a fun-sounding tour titled, "Mexican Fiesta and Tour," and wanted to get to the meeting point on the dock in time to get good seats on the bus. As it turned out, just about everyone on the ship had signed up for this tour, and we had about four busloads of eager tourists ready to party. The guide on our bus was a pleasant and very knowledgeable lady named Gina who began the experience by giving us each a paper bracelet that was our lunch and tequila tasting (woo-hoo!) ticket, and a bright orange sticker with her name on it to help her herd her busload of cats.

Once the bus was full and we'd all been properly stickered and braceleted, we pulled out for the drive to the tequila distillery that was the site of our tour and fiesta. I noted that the bus was equipped with an interesting alarm (warning of excessive speed, as if any bus in Mexico could go too fast, except downhill with a tailwind):

It didn't take long for the bus to travel from the modern, upscale city of Puerto Vallarta to the poor, rundown was as if someone had thrown a switch, and the paved roads and modern buildings were replaced with rutted dirt roads and shabby houses. We passed, among other things, the Jalisco state prison (which looked pretty much like any other grim, dusty prison you've ever seen), and endless agricultural fields which take advantage of the mineral rich soil and favorable climate to grow huge crops of tropical fruits and, of course, the blue agave plant from which tequila is made. We also learned that Jalisco is the home of the famous Mexican mariachi music. According to Gina, mariachi music was originally (and is still traditionally) played for weddings (the word mariachi is derived from the French word for marriage); however, the popularity of and demand for professional mariachi bands has priced them out of the reach of much of the population.

We eventually arrived at the Hacienda Dona Engracia and spilled out of the bus for an initial bathroom break before beginning the tour.

The tour was conducted by a fellow named Jacob who demonstrated both the old/traditional and new methods of cooking the agave and crushing it to squeeze out the juice, which is then fermented, filtered, and aged to produce the various grades of tequila we enjoy.

After the tour, we were offered the opportunity to sample each of five different tequilas produced at the distillery: blanco, reposado, anejo (each progressively longer aged, smoother, and more pleasant), and two flavored tequilas - peach and almond - which were wonderful. Sadly (or, perhaps, fortunately), we only received a tiny thimbleful of each.

After the tour, we were herded to a gaily decorated area for our "Mexican fiesta" lunch and show.

The food was served buffet style and was good, if not spectacular. We did enjoy the show, which featured two couples dancing several different Mexican folk dances in colorful costumes:

The show also featured a Mexican cowboy (vaquero) who performed some interesting tricks with his lariat, and another who performed on a dancing horse. We were less than impressed by the rider, since we have extensive experience with dressage and Western riding and horsemanship, and were put off by his excessive use of spurs to make the horse perform.

But then, of course, came the inevitable audience participation part of the show. Ham that I am, I volunteered for the tequila shot contest. This involved three volunteers and the show emcee ("Pancho El Rancho") who decked each of us in turn with a huge sombrero and a serape, poured large shots of tequila, hammered the glasses three times on the table ("UNO... DOS... TRES!!"), then handed them to us to chug...after which we had to scream out "Mexican" yells. You can see how that came out...

The crowd then voted with applause for the best performance and - wouldn't you know? - the emcee decreed a tie between yours truly and one of the other fellows...which, of course, necessitated doing the whole thing again. In the end, as a result of my shameless mugging for the crowd and a hysterical yell fueled by the tequila, I was declared the winner, for which I received a beautiful hand-made leather belt. Now, I just need to lose enough weight to wear the belt.

There was a tortilla-pressing contest for the ladies which was sort of stupid, and then a final performance by the dancers. At the end of their performance, the four dancers came into the audience and picked unwitting partners to dance with them. Agnes and I were picked out by one couple (I ended up with the girl in the first of the dance pictures above, who was absolutely gorgeous), and we did our best to keep up with the music, my partner helpfully whispering vuelto! each time I was supposed to do a tequila-fueled turn. We survived, and Agnes's partner even said to her, "You're a dancer, aren't you!" My partner was just happy that I'd managed to miss her feet.

This ended the show, and we boarded the buses again for the drive back to Puerto Vallarta. The trip was uneventful except for a traffic obstacle of the sort we don't usually encounter in Washington...

The final portion of the tour was a brief walking tour of the beachfront area of town and a visit to the local cathedral - Our Lady of Guadalupe. The cathedral (church, actually, since it doesn't have a resident bishop) had a tower which at one time had a concrete crown at its top. The crown was damaged in a recent earthquake, and was under repair.

The bus picked us up again near the church and delivered us back to the ship, tired, full, and (in my case) slightly buzzed.

We found Puerto Vallarta to be a beautiful city...however, as with Acapulco and Zihuatanejo, it grew less attractive and more seedy the farther away one went from the tourist areas. It had the inevitable street vendors; however, like in Zihuatanejo, they were much less aggressive and annoying than in Acapulco.

Come back tomorrow to hear about our last stop, at Cabo San Lucas.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. More thoughts tomorrow.



Malaise Inc said...

I am not surprised that guy needed to use alot of spur. If that picture is any indication, he has probably deadened the poor horses mouth by the way he is overusing what appears to be a pretty harsh bit.

Oh, and tequila shots? I wouldn't have been able to stand after that.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Gorgeous pictures! Happy Turkey Day!

Mike said...

When you first started talking about the dancing, I'm thinking, OK, comment time, why didn't YOU get out there and show them how it's done.

And then, later in the post, I find out you DID go out there! OLA!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A well written account of your day in great detail with super pics.

A Quality Post. Happy Thanksgiving.

fiona said...

I can't get past you feeling the need to hold onto your hat as you give the "Mexican" yell. Too funny. Really LMAO here.

Amanda said...

That looks like so much fun! And, good on you for being such a good sport!