Have you ever been so in love with a place that when it was time to go, you felt like you were leaving your home? Like you were leaving behind the love of your life? I’ve had that feeling three times in my life. The first was leaving Naples, where I grew up and all I knew for the first 15 years of my life. The second was leaving Havana which started out as a poorly planned weekend but ended up filled with the most amazing memories to last a lifetime. And the third was Puerto Vallarta. It only took four days for me to willingly hand over my heart to this complete vision of paradise.
O and I thought this excursion was about to be the best planned trip to Cuba. We had it down to a T. Then the plane filled up out of nowhere and we were left wandering the terminal for options and opportunities, but unable to surrender to circumstance. About three hours later, Puerto Vallarta became our saving grace, offering us potentially the only two available seats going anywhere on a Thursday before March break. As per tradition, I booked the hostel as the plane pushed back but, as terrible as it sounds, we had never been so disappointed to have gotten on a flight. We were blinded by the disintegration of our best-laid plans, yet at the same time, we had the opportunity of arriving with a clean slate, free of all expectations. The ultimate gift of spontaneity.
There were three main things I learned on this trip:
1. Literally nothing ever goes as planned.
2. The things that don’t go as planned are the best.
3. Street food is life.
As the plane descended into PVR, a palm-covered mountainous landscape surrounded us and I could almost feel the heat emanating from the tarmac. After “welcome margaritas” handed out at the airport and a 20 minute sunny bus ride downtown on local transit, we had arrived at Casa Kraken Hostel. Not sure what it was about this place but despite being a foreign country, it felt like we just came home. No doubts, no worries. Just peace and security. After checking in and claiming our assigned bunks, we bolted for the rooftop terrace. The metal winding staircase vibrated uncontrollably beneath our anxious steps as we hurried to take in the beautiful unknown. And just as we reached the top, that view literally took my breath away. Time stopped. The air was warm and smelled of cooked meat and fresh tortillas. The breeze was cool, like a blast of air conditioning on a hot summer day. The sun was slowly climbing down the afternoon sky toward the ocean, leaning its golden rays into the numerous buildings nestled into the mountains surrounding us; their white facades now bright orange. My focus kept shifting from the sinking sun, to the vibrant buildings, to the faux tan that golden hour had painted on my skin. Was this real? Could this be real? Never had I needed something to be real this much and never had I been so grateful that is was. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath of this familiar, wild air, and just held onto the moment for as long as I could knowing that I’d be replaying it in my mind until I could come back.
The next morning I woke up rested, eager and early. This place was behind one time zone and I generally got up early to begin with. I took this extra morning time to drink my coffee on the street-facing balcony and to pour my overwhelmed mind into my notebook. The sun was already hot despite it only being 8AM. The town was in full morning rush mode and I had the privilege to be there and observe.
At breakfast, O and I asked around for the best nearby beach and we were definitely impressed by the recommendation. Only a 15 minute bus ride south, Playa las Gemelas was the turquoise water oasis we so desperately needed. Once again, we took the local bus which jostled us in every direction as it climbed the steep and winding landscape, protesting every turn and stop due to its state of disrepair. The coastal side of the road was lined with private homes and hotels, but every so often there were breaks where you could look over the cliff and see glimpses of the restless deep blue ocean and its foamy whitecaps breaking on the surrounding boulders. Beach access came at a cost of a long sketchy stone staircase, culminating in a small stretch of white sand and the vast blue ombré Pacific. On our way back to the hostel we stopped for fish tacos at this tiny, (literally) hole in the wall sidewalk restaurant, blissfully unaware that this meal was about to be a life-changing culinary masterpiece. In fact, there wasn’t any street food we sampled that we didn’t immediately fall in love with. It’s amazing what you can discover when you venture along the road less traveled.
The remainder of the four day weekend consisted of local beers, eating the town out of tacos, strolling through artisan markets, exploring the quaint architecture and soaking up the glorious rays of sunshine that we lacked back home, just wondering how we ever came to be so fortunate to find this incredible slice of paradise.
Muchas gracias Puerto Vallarta!