Saturday, April 7, 2007

Familiar Mexico


This was a long stopover, I assume owing to late-arriving flights. As we had a very late departure of 11:00pm, we decided to spend most of the day aboard ship enjoying the relative quiet of turn-around day, and then take a sunset sail on the bay while the chaos of arriving passengers was ongoing through the afternoon.

We had a very short (and, in hindsight, ridiculously expensive) taxi ride to a pier along the malecon only a few blocks from our berth, where we boarded the large party boat Bonanza for a 4:30 cruise around the bay. The crowd was mostly Mexican, with a sprinkling of folks from elsewhere in Latin America. I would say only a dozen of us were Norte-Americanos, about half each from the US and Canada. Still, the guide gave the narration in English as well as Spanish, and it was an enjoyable cruise. US$22 apiece got us a three hour tour, unlimited open bar, and all the latin music we could handle, with a live band on the lower level and a DJ on the upper deck. A good deal of the tour consisted of pointing out the large vacation homes of the rich and famous, dotting the waterfront.

We opted not to do any other sightseeing in Acapulco, although we had a great view of Fuerte San Diego right from the ship. This is Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), and the entirety of Mexico is on holiday, so Acapulco was packed, as will be all our other ports on this leg. That accounted for the big party crowd aboard Bonanza, and also the fact that a good number of passengers embarking Golden Princess in Acapulco were Mexican families. We now have several hundred children aboard, for the first time since we left Buenos Aires.

Our junior waiter (Bruno from Portugal) and waiter (Istvan from Hungary) mug for the camera. They gave us top-notch service and really added to our cruising pleasure.


The very next day we had an early arrival in this small resort area, once a sleepy fishing village and now nearly eclipsed by the neighboring mega-resort area of Ixtapa. Rather than go ashore for the traditional cruise-port experience of being relentlessly hawked merchandise by every shopkeeper in town, we opted for the catamaran sail-and-snorkel tour, which left too early for our tastes (meeting at 8:00am), but proved to be a good choice. There was not enough wind for real sailing, so we mostly motored along, but the water was great, the snorkeling was OK, and there was, once again, an open bar on the return trip (do you detect a theme here?). A bit early in the day to do any serious damage to their liquor supply, but we determined that the sun was indeed past the yard arm, at least if you stood in the right place on deck.

We had an early departure from this port, at 3:00pm, and we enjoyed the sail-away from our aft-facing balcony, watching the resort disappear in the distance even as Ixtapa slipped into, then out of, view. The early departure allowed for the first formal-attire night of this segment, which always involves the captain's welcome cocktail party, one of the extremely few occasions when cocktails are passed out without dinging your ship-board account.

One of our souvenir gifts, a stuffed alpaca from Chile, boasts a Mexican sombrero and sunglasses. It was our room steward's idea to dress up the alpaca.

Puerto Vallarta

Today we are in Puerto Vallarta. Once again we have elected not to partake of any tours, as this marks our third visit here and everything is crowded for the holidays. Instead, we made the two-block walk from the pier to Wal-Mart for some necessities, then browsed the pier-side shops, where I found a US$1-per-hour internet cafe where I will upload this blog later today.

After two previous cruises down the Mexican Riviera, all these ports certainly have a familiar feel. Beyond that, though, the six weeks we spent in Mexico in Odyssey gave us a kind of familiarity with the country that makes us feel very much at home here. Entering a new part of town in Mexico now feels little different to us than entering a new place in the US, although we do still struggle to communicate at times. (This latter item is seldom a problem in tourist ports -- almost everyone speaks some English.)

Our visit to Wal-Mart really puts the finishing touch on the sensation. Here in PV, the "local" shops selling "Mexican" merchandise are catering to the tourists -- the Mexicans shop at Wal-Mart, in a kind of grand, global-economy irony. Of course, being right across from the berth, a fair number of passengers will stop by just to see what Wal-Mart looks like in Mexico. If they are lucky, or smart, they'll do that first, where they will find that souvenirs and Puerto Vallarta logo merchandise such as ball caps and t-shirts are a fraction of the price that the street vendors charge, and Wal-Mart offers an exchange rate of 10.98 pesos to the dollar, whereas the street rate is 10-to-1, and even the cambios only offer 10.6 or so. (The crew, naturally, is already wise to this, and pretty much everyone with shore leave will pay a visit there.)

Tomorrow we will be in Mazatlan, a town even more familiar to us, and the next day our old friend Cabo San Lucas. We have no specific plans in either port, though I expect we will mostly remain aboard ship. Pretty much everything in Mazatlan will be either closed or impossibly crowded for Easter Sunday, and Cabo is enough of a tourist trap that even chips and salsa are overpriced (although we may take another snorkel catamaran there, on our own).

I most likely will not take the laptop ashore again until we disembark in San Francisco, so this may well be my last post until we are back home. Happy Easter, everyone.

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