After surviving a hectic spring this year, which included a workplace reorganization, the sale of one home, purchase of another and a move, my husband, Steve, stated emphatically, “We need a beach vacation.” After scanning a map and an accounting of our available time off (limited) we decided that Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco, Mexico fit the bill. In June we embarked on a relatively quick 3 ½ hour flight from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta seeking to cram as much relaxation as we could into 4 days.
OUR LOCAL DIGS
Ensconced in our comfortable accommodations at the Westin Hotel-Club Regina complex in Marina Vallarta we headed off to get a bite to eat. Dining at El Palmar Restaurant at the Westin Hotel we feasted on shrimp salad, which turned out to be an avocado overflowing with enormous shrimp that burst with flavor. The tortilla soup was artfully displayed with the deep red soup accompanied by a plate of savory items to be added as desired, including tortilla strips, sliced avocado, chunks of tomato, pasillo chilies and chorizo. The intense flavors put the clearly-Americanized versions that I’d had in the past to shame and I polished off every morsel.
DOWNTOWN PUERTO VALLARTA
Though we were there to unwind we planned an overly ambitious itinerary for the first day. After touring the grounds, which included several pools and beach areas we left the complex to catch a city bus across from the hotel. The buses run frequently so we didn’t have long to wait, paid our 5.5 pesos (US$ 0.50) and headed downtown, passing a huge Wal-Mart that forms the locus of many inquiries about directions. When we arrived downtown we were listless with the heat, wandered around a few blocks of shops and stalls, finally wilting on a bench at the square. Deciding that we had forgotten how to relax we turned around and caught a bus back to the hotel, where we headed straight to where we should have been all along, at the pool. Cool refreshing water never felt so good. We took full advantage of a unique feature in the pool, built-in “lounge chairs”. These tiled structures, contoured to support one’s head and knees, allowed us to lie in the water partially submerged to beat the heat.
LA CRUZ DE HUANACAXTLE
We were beginning to shed some of the stress of the past months, but still felt compelled to head out of town to visit a distinctive eatery we had discovered on a previous visit. Located in the fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, it is approximately 1 hour north by bus, in the state of Nayarit. The concierge looked a little perplexed that we wanted to travel by bus, but directed us to change buses at the Wal-Mart station and look for the name of the town on the front of the bus. Many buses passed by before it dawned on me that the initials, “LAX”, painted on the windshields referred to La Cruz with the “X” referring to “cruz” (“cross” in Spanish), and dropping the “de Huanacaxtle” entirely, as most speakers do. Eventually arriving in La Cruz we hopped off, purchased some alcoholic libations at the store at the bus stop, hoped that the tiny establishment was still in operation, and maintained optimism that we could still find it. Criss-crossing the tiny town we almost gave up before we stumbled upon the place we were seeking.
A family with a private residence with a large front patio and outdoor grill has been serving tacos a couple of nights a week for more than a decade. The “menu” was limited to tacos, served with a dish of lime wedges, crunchy sliced radishes, roasted jalapeno peppers and salsa. The small corn or flour tortillas were filled with a spicy fresh tomato salsa, mashed avocado and savory grilled steak. Fresh and delicious, they were so tasty that we savored the memories from several years back and made this trek just to sample them again. This year the operation was a little more formalized, with waiters who spoke English, a few more tables spilling into the street and a name, “Tacos on the Street”, but with the same menu and fresh flavors as before. We washed down the spicy tacos with the cold Pacifico beer we had brought as this remains a BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer) operation. Hours have expanded to Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 6:00-11:30 PM. We finished the meal with some delicate, smooth flan and felt satisfied that the journey was worth it.
After all the activity the day before, we were determined to unwind, so we scratched any ideas about exploration and headed for the beach. Shedding my focused itinerary, I saw that the beautifully landscaped property was lush with hibiscus hedges, palms and other tropical plants. Song birds flitted about providing an aural accent to the gentle lapping of the waves. We settled on lounge chairs under a palapa, an open-sided structure that provides thatched protection from the sun. The ocean water was invitingly warm, with fishing boats and para-sailors passing by regularly. We thoroughly enjoyed reading and dozing in the hot, tropical sun.
That evening we strolled in the soft, warm air and sat on the sea wall taking in the inky ocean, lit up for a short time by the nightly fireworks over Banderas Bay. A sophisticated beach bar beckoned us to recline on comfortable settees, sipping chardonnay and listening to soft tones of lounge music. I gazed dreamily up at the palm fronds rustling in the light breeze under the stars wanting the moment to last forever. Finally, we felt like we were getting the hang of relaxation, enjoying reconnecting with each other and the natural surroundings.
THE VISTA GRILL
The next day passed much like the first but being our last full day we decided to attempt downtown again, this time in the relative cool of the evening. Our friends, Wendy and Mike, had told me about their favorite restaurant, the Vista Grill. Armed with the address and a map we set out confidently on the bus. Disembarking near Pulpito Street we quickly realized that the numbers didn’t match up. Fixing our eyes on a steep hill with concrete steps we realized we might have a bit more of a walk than we anticipated. The limp feeling returned as we trudged up the stairs, then more stairs in the warmth of the evening. When we got to the highway we were debating whether to abandon the mission when Steve spied a tiny sign in the foliage pointing the way to the restaurant. Looking at the near vertical hill we couldn’t imagine where the restaurant might be, but we persevered, climbing more steep inclines winding around the hill, suddenly coming upon a sign announcing that we had arrived. Entering the establishment the view took what was left of our breath away. While the journey had been arduous the reward was a panoramic view of the town of Puerto Vallarta, with the shimmering Pacific stretching far away, lit by the orange sphere of the setting sun. The romantic surroundings had attracted several other couples but somehow, even without reservations, we were shown to the best table in the house at a corner of the terrace jutting over the vista. The refined surroundings, attentive wait staff and a frosty glass of bottled water soothed our sensibilities and cooled us down. We enjoyed a fresh arugula salad with strawberries, gorgonzola and pear salad, perfectly grilled shrimp with a tuna roll, tender, and juicy rack of lamb, finishing with a chocolate terrine. A cool glass of chardonnay from their extensive wine list accompanied the meal. Taking our time savoring the moments, we felt rejuvenated and re-connected as we made plans to take a cab to the hotel. The Visa Grill provided the perfect conclusion to a wonderful, ultimately relaxing trip.
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Photos by Inga Aksamit
Westin Hotel and Spa
Paseo de la Marina Sur #205
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco 48354
Phone: 52 (322) 226-1100
Raintree Club Regina
Club Regina Puerto Vallarta
Paseo de la Marina Sur 205
Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
México, C.P 48321
01 (322) 221-11-00
Tacos on the Street
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit
Open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 6:00-11:30 PM (in 2008)
Colonia Alta Vista
Phone: 52 (322) 222-3570