Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blood-Sucking Vampires in Puerto Vallarta!!

But before the vampire story – more about Mexico’s incredible free enterprise system.

Since crossing the border, we have been amazed at the vendors that cross our path every day. You see Mexicans hawking everything from clothing, jewellery, pottery, Chiclets, food, hair braiding, pedicures, blankets, wooden carvings, paintings, musical performances, vehicle window washing, juggling performances, RV washing and waxing, henna tattoos, autobody work, vehicle painting, books, newspapers, and the list goes on. There are people of every age – from little kids no more than 4-years old to grandparents. Virtually anyplace that people gather – streets, beaches, stop signs, restaurants, toll booths, intersections – there is always someone there trying to sell you something. When we were in Mazatlan, we were amazed to see an elderly women in the most awesome ‘pimped out’ wheelchair (it had a topper and sides, carried her crutches and had shelving to hold whatever she was selling), wheeling her way through an incredibly busy intersection – and at night! These are brave, hardy souls – she didn’t seem worried about the traffic in the least.

With such an incredibly cash-based system, I have no idea how these people are taxed by the government. I will be doing some research on this.
Now on to the next phase of our travels…

We left Mazatlan around 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 7th, and headed south towards our final destination of Bucerias, about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. The scenery and vegetation changed fairly quickly, and we began to drive through beautiful green areas of orchards, marshy swamp land, and small cattle operations. This progressed into dense jungle-like areas as we began to climb into mountainous regions, and then down into fertile plateaus with fields of sugar cane, and later hillsides and regions of Algarve cactus production (Jose Cuervo fields – really).
We again took the toll roads in an effort to save time and wear-and-tear on the rig. We had been told that most Mexicans stayed away from the toll roads, preferring the ‘libre’ or free roads. This did not appear to be the case for us, as we travelled with large convoys of big trucks, and far more traffic than we had anticipated.
We drove past the big centre of Tepic (instead of turning south), as we had received a tip from some travelers that the road would be much better. Turns out they were wrong – that section of toll road is under construction, and ultimately meets up with the coastal highway, which is windy, narrow and very, very steep. That little tip cost us extra travel time.

Needless to say, the drive was turning into a long one, and we were quite anxious to get into Bucerias before dark and find our RV Park. We got into town shortly after 4:00 p.m., and decided to play it safe by pulling into a Pemex parking lot, pulling out the SUV, and scoping out the drive to – and into – our RV Park.

Good thing we did. The roads in Bucerias are definitely not ‘big rig’ friendly – narrow, steep, tree-lined, potholed, cobblestone streets - your basic nightmare. Plus, there was even a big concrete riser that you had to drive over to get into the RV Park itself. Very much a challenge here ….

We decided it would be best to unhitch the trailer, and drive the motor home over first. Once we were in the park and set up, we would come back and tow the trailer over with the SUV. Sounds simple, right? Did I mention the highway system that travels through Bucerias ….

There are two lanes each of north and southbound traffic. Plus, there are ‘laterals’ on either side on those. You cannot make any left turns from the main highway – only from the laterals. And, these laterals are very ‘big rig’ unfriendly - things are very tight.

So, with Terry driving the motor home, and me following in the SUV, we headed down the highway in search of a spot that would accommodate the motor home making a left turn back towards our RV Park. Terry ended up making an illegal left turn over onto a lateral. I tried following him, but as he was blocking both north and southbound traffic, I ended up having to turn onto the main southbound lanes. I tried frantically to find a road that would allow me to come back over to the approximate area of the RV Park and meet up with him, but the traffic was so bad and turning so difficult, that I ended up travelling up and down the highway about three times before I could make the turn. Needless to say, stress levels were rising.

I finally met Terry, and attempted to guide him as he backed up into the RV park entrance – terrified all the while that he was going to damage the top of the motor home from the trees lining the street, damage a few of those trees, or bend the hitch on the cement riser (he didn’t). Unfortunately, he did end up busting off a corner of the cement pad at our site (ultimately my fault – bad guiding). However – we were in!! Now back to pick up the trailer and we’d be golden….

We get back to the Pemex parking lot, and attempt to hitch the trailer onto the SUV. Turns out we couldn’t raise the trailer hitch high enough to lift it off of the blocks and onto the SUV. We ended up using the bike rack as a ‘jack’ and the both of us pushed until our heads almost exploded before we finally were able to remove the blocks and get everything in place. However, we again had the issue of trying to make our way across the highway and onto the correct laterals so we could get back to our RV Park. More stress…

Of course it’s dark by then, and we’re both fuzzy on how exactly to get to the RV Park, so we miss our road. We attempt a few other roads, only to almost high-centre ourselves in front of a group of amused Mexicans. We drive down a steep, potholed, narrow road, with no idea of how to get ourselves back up towards our RV Park. My solution was to park the trailer and just sell it there, as I doubted the SUV could ever pull it up the hills we were facing. In frustration, Terry pulled the car over, took his bike out of the trailer, and escorted me (walking) up the steep, steep hill and into our RV Park. Using the bike, he found himself a route and, miraculously, was able to finally get the trailer into the park. Hallelujah! I swear I lost 10 years of my life with the stress we went through that day – virtually every bad scenario that I had dreamed about came true.

But, we’re parked, and will be here for almost 8 weeks. The RV Park is very small – only 5 sites in total. When we arrived, there was only one other trailer (from Quebec), but another has joined us (from Penticton). There are no amenities other than water, power, sewer, and a secure compound, but the location is great – just a 5-minute walk to the beach. The owners of the Park are a couple from Fort Worth, Texas – really friendly. They just finished building a house right on the beach, and have promised to have us over for a drink.

Our first impression of Bucerias – this is no ‘sleepy little fishing village’. Things are very busy here (much new development in progress), and, unlike other places we have been to in Mexico – there are a LOT of ‘norteamericanos’ here – in particular, Canadians (and a large contingent from Quebec). New development is wedged between the much older residences and typical Mexican businesses, so it makes for quite an interesting flow – but it seems to work for the place, and only adds to the ambiance.

The place is very ‘eclectic’. We went for supper the other night, only to discover that there was a scheduled ‘Art Walk’ taking place (are we on Salt Spring Island or in Canmore??). There were many older, obviously affluent people wandering through the local gallerias before partaking at one of the many, many good restaurants here. It is very quiet, and very civilized. The younger crowd obviously prefers the busier centre of Puerto Vallarta.

The beach is beautiful – Bahia de Banderas is apparently the second largest bay in the world, so you can walk for miles and miles and miles in either direction. Today we were treated to a show put on by a large group of dolphins playing not far off the beach – amazing.

The water is warm, the weather is hot everyday (29-30 degrees average). It is as nice as it gets. The only down side to the tropical climate is that I am entering a ‘big hair’ phase. Picture country singers Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn hair from way back in the ‘50’s – we’re talking big. Terry, however, decided to go the complete opposite with his hair. He had been desperate to get a really short haircut, but hadn’t found anyone on the beach who does haircuts. Not to be put off, he pulled out the ‘dog grooming kit’ that we bought to trim the cat’s hair, and roped me into using it on him. Here’s a picture of the result. I’ve never seen him happier about a haircut.

Now on to the blood sucking vampires ….

Our first day on the beach, we were approached by a friendly fellow who appeared to be selling whale watching/snorkeling tours. We were interested in taking such a tour, and also a sunset cruise, so were quite happy to run into him. Then … he mentioned that we could get those tours free IF we went on a short 75-minute tour of a beautiful new resort nearby …. no obligation …. only to show us the resort (The Flamingo for the record) so we could recommend it to family and friends ….

Our last timeshare experience was in Montana. It was very much no-pressure, and kept to the 90-minute mark exactly. This experience lulled us into a state of complacency, and, like a pair of fools – we thought it would be the same this time. Needless to say, 75-minutes turned into 4-hours. Our new ‘bestest friends’ Damien and Bob (our two shady sales reps), wined and dined us over breakfast, toured us around the fabulous resort, then herded us into the big ‘sales pitch’ room – a room with about 20 tables full of other saps going through the same process. We finally got down to it, and found out that, for a mere $125,000 U.S., we too could stay at the resort (or other similar resorts within their little conglomerate) for 2-weeks every winter (paying an additional $875/week for maintenance fees) and 2-weeks every summer for the next 30-years. Pardon???? (Did I mention that you have to cover your own airfare and food/alcohol while you’re there.)

The whole experience was bizarre – they had upbeat music piped in, and every time some poor sap signed up for a deal, they would ring a bell, pop the cork off of a champagne bottle, and announce the sale to everyone, prompting a frenzy of clapping and cheering. I wouldn’t be surprised if they piped in oxygen, and slipped some persuasive drugs into our coffee!

Trying to be nice, we told our sales rep that we couldn’t commit to anything like this right now, as our business sale was still in progress. Wanting to sweeten the pot, he had another schmarmy salesman come over and give us some ‘song and dance’ that, if we didn’t use our weeks in the first year, they could cut $48,000 off of the price, as these weeks could be put into the room pool and sold??! Now, my math skills ‘ain’t so good’, but that don’t add up…. I doubt those four weeks are worth $12,000 each!

Begging off again, we finally got up to leave. But after we walked out of the room and went outside, we were joined by the final slimy, slimy, king of the vampires, soul-sucking, bottom-feeding representative. He sat us down on the pretext of ‘making sure we had all of our questions answered’. He promptly tells us that, with the U.S. economy being so down, they were relying heavily on us Canadians for their sales right now. Then, he bottom lines us – asking us ‘what would it take’ to make the sale. He throws out the figure of $40K, then promptly cuts it to $20K – and throws in another 8 weeks! I was stunned – 5 minutes before we could have paid $125K – and the next minute, it was down to $20K. It finally got down to $18K. We couldn’t even speak! He left alone for a few minutes ‘to talk’.

Well, if I could have thrown a chair through the glass door into that room and told those other poor bastards about the underhanded deals that were going on WITHOUT getting thrown in jail – I would have. He comes back and asks us what we think – so I told him. End of the charade, end of everyone being ‘nicey nice’. We got our gifts and left. That’s 4-hours we’ll never get back. We left that place and I felt dirty and defiled. I wanted to go outside, breathe fresh air, feel sunshine on my face, smell a flower, hear the laughter of a child, pet a puppy … gaah!

Now we’re still wrestling with internet issues. We drove to Puerto Vallarta to see if an air card for our laptop was possible. We purchased one, but of course cannot make the thing work. So, we’re still without internet, and now have to make the trip back into Puerto Vallarta tomorrow to see if the TelCel people can assist us. Until then, we are trudging down to the local internet café. Fortunately, it is cheap and the connection is fast. However, with having to file our G.S.T. return at the end of this month, I’m anxious to have internet access a little more accessible.

The good news? We received word that Judy, Joel, Lyle and Agnes will be coming down in February for two weeks! Yaay! We’re now in search of accommodation for them. Maybe if they agree to sit through a brief presentation and tour a lovely resort we can get them a very nice place to stay ……

We’ve also gotten ourselves a mascot – we have named him ‘little Lyle’. Since Lyle can’t be with us, ‘little Lyle’ will take his place and come with us on all of our adventures.

Till next time.

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