Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mexico Cruise Day 5 - Puerto Vallarta

Warning: this one's a long one, but the shore excursion was so excellent!

It was my turn to wake up before dawn, and as I looked out our veradah door, I saw that the ship was rotating. They were turning us around so that we could back into the dock in Puerto Vallarta. What a contrast from Mazatlan! Instead of a stark industrial port, the dock in Puerto Vallarta was right in the city and the dock itself had grass and palm trees. We were docked alongside the Norwegian Star (as we had been in Mazatlan) and the Carnival Splendor, so there'd be lots of touristas in town today.

Again, we woke Tim up and he joined us for breakfast. Sadly, although they have Fruit Loops in the Lido restaurant, they are not on the menu in the main dining room. Undeterred, Tim popped up to the Lido and grabbed a couple of boxes and brought them down to the dining room and just ordered a bowl and milk. Very resourceful.

We got off the ship in plenty of time for our destiny with death, um, I mean our outdoor challenge shore excursion. There were about 20 other crazies on the tour too, and as we walked from our ship around the back of the Carnival ship to the dock where we boarded the Apex (a larger and faster version of a Zodiac), Rachel started talking to another woman, Seri, about ziplines (she'd done one on a past cruise) and other things. As we boarded our Apex, we noticed one poor man being nervous about everything. He was concerned that he wouldn't be able to do it, he was concerned about not making it back to the ship in time, etc. We assured him that because we booked this tour with the ship, they wouldn't leave without us. It didn't help, and he looked like he was going to be sick. Fortunately, he wasn't.

After a fun 20 minute boat trip, we arrived at a beautiful beach in a secluded cove called Boca de Tomatlan. Here we got off the boat and prepared for the next phase - a ride in a unimog (an old military transport vehicle) up to base camp. Each unimog could hold 15 people (with the 15th person strapped to a seat on the tailgate!), so they divided us up into 2 groups. For the first group, they asked for larger families, and when it became obvious that this was going to be the fun group, Seri quickly asked to be adopted into our family so that we could all go together. This turned out to be perfect, as Seri was a blast, and we went with the better group.

The drive up to base camp was amazing. We drove through the tiny village next to the beach, and up through the jungle into the mountains. After turning off the paved roads, we had to ford a couple of streams, and it was a good thing that we had a high clearance 4WD vehicle. Upon arrival at base camp, the driver backed our unimog up to what looked like a loading dock, and after carefully unseating the 15th passenger, opened the tailgate. We were given the opportunity to safely lock up anything and everything we'd brought with us; we were to have nothing at all in our pockets. We then met our guides from the "L" team ("L" for lindo we were later told), and were issued our equipment: a climbing harness, gloves, helmet, and the pulleys for the zip lines. We then moved on to meet our mules. We were told that they'd choose a mule for each of us based on our size and personality. Tim piped up that his mule would be sullen and indifferent! He may be a teenager, but he's still got a great sense of humor.

As each of us mounted our mules, we joined the line heading up the mountain to the top of the course. It must have been about a 20 to 30 minute ride to the top through beautiful jungle. Rachel had been on a horse a few years ago that fell on her, so she was just a bit nervous about the whole riding thing, but put on a brave face and made it to the top. I ended up riding near Seri and Adrian, one of our guides, and we all had a nice conversation about Mexico and his family near Chicago, etc.

At the top, we dismounted and were briefed on how to go down a zip line. We were reassured that they'd only lost 3 people last week, so they were doing pretty well. I expect that joke didn't go down so well with our other group containing the poor man who was nervous about everything and the guy who'd scolded Seri for joking about having her will made out. Tim was the first from our family to go, and he just stepped right up and went. I was next, and other than not having my guide hand back far enough on the line, I did fine. It really wasn't scary, and one did have the sensation of flying over the treetops. Rachel was next and screamed as she went, but had a big smile on her face as she landed. Seri came next, and let out a good scream too. By the time we got to the third zipline, we were all feeling good and enjoying the view. We then got to rappel down the face of a waterfall, and honestly, we were ready to do it. Fear? What fear? Let me at it. You just lean over the edge (about 100 feet in the air) and walk down the face backwards. Rachel had a bit of trouble with her hand position, but did great.

Right after the waterfall was a short zip line that took your directly into a pool of water. Did I mention that it was cold water? Very cold! If you didn't get wet coming down the waterfall, you were soaked now. The next zip line was a long one called the secadora (the dryer). I didn't get dry, but fortunately it was warm enough that I didn't care about being wet any more. We then crossed a commando bridge (a single rope for the feet and a parallel rope about 6 feet higher for the hands). By now our guides could tell that we were all pretty comfortable, so they started bouncing the foot rope, just to make it a little more fun. We then crossed a double rope "Burma" bridge and arrived at the vertical rappel. Again, 100 feet down, but no cliff face this time - it was a free rappel from a platform hanging in mid-air attached to the surrounding trees by ropes. By this time, no one had second thoughts about walking out to the end of the platform and stepping off. It was fun! I felt just like one of those thieves that lower themselves through the skylight. The last zip line was a side-by-side dual line, and Rachel and I raced. We were tied until about 2/3 of the way there when she had to adjust her angle and slowed down. It was all over too quickly, and we took the short hike back to base camp where we changed into our dry clothes, had a light snack, and looked at (and bought) the pictures that were taken of us. After about 20 minutes we were loaded into the unimog for the trip back down to the beach.

Back at Boca de Tomatlan, we had to wait for the other group to return in about 1/2 hour or so. We sat on the beach at a little restaurant and fended off the vendors trying to sell us carvings and jewelry. The guy from the adventure company that coordinated the boats came and sat with us and we had a interesting chat about Mexico and his perception of tourists from the US (I'd say American tourists, except he was quick to point out that Mexico is part of North America as well). He sees a lot of spoiled US tourists and the folks in the tourist industry in Mexico have been told that they need to start learning Chinese since this is where many believe the next economic power will come from as the US declines in its position in the world. Given our national tendency to shun hard work in favor of a get-rich-quick mentality, and the increasing animosity toward education in general and science and technology in particular, I can't argue with him.

About 20 minutes after we got back to the beach, the other group joined us, and Tony, the nervous man, was still nervous about getting back to the ship. We had to wait another 10 or 15 minutes for the Apex to come and pick us up, and he joined us at our table. He said that he was glad that the adventure was over, and glad to have gotten through it. Sad, because for our family (including Seri), and had been an amazing experience. If you're ever in Puerto Vallarta, by all means look up Vallarta Adventures and go on the Outdoor Adventure.

We finally boarded the Apex and had a nice ride back to the dock. Of course we were back in plenty of time before the ship sailed, and even had a little time to get cleaned up. It was a little after 3:00 and Rachel and I were hungry, so we went up to the Terrace Grill and had a quick bite to hold us until dinner. I even had time for a shower and a little relaxation.

Dinner was fun as usual, and by this time the boyz had become relaxed enough with Yaya that they were ordering extra desserts and making sure they got their fill of Coke. Sami had discovered that New York strip steak was better than her usual plain pasta with butter, although I'm not sure that John and Kitty will be pleased if she starts ordering it in restaurants where one actually has to pay!

After dinner Rachel, John, and I headed out for music; Kitty wasn't feeling well. After dropping Sami off at Club HAL, we went down to see Jan and the Halcats. Unfortunately, their performance had been canceled because the Queen's Lounge was being used for a special dinner. Rats! We then headed to the Ocean Bar to hear the jazz trio, the Neptunes. They were finishing up a nice piece as we arrived and ordered our drinks. John had his usual Mai Tai and I had either a glass of Port or a club soda (I can't remember which. I limited myself to one glass of port after dinner, and ordered club soda for the rest of the night). Just as our drinks came, they announced that they were going on break. Arg! We've had a knack the whole trip of coming in just as the band was going on break. There had been a couple dancing and they convinced the band that they needed to play one more piece, and did they know any polkas? We snickered slightly, but the Neptunes didn't miss a beat and struck up "Roll Out the Barrel" while the couple danced a very respectable polka. This, however, was really their last song before they went on break, but it allowed us to just chat with John which was very nice. Around 10, we went up to pick up Sami at club HAL and dropped her and John off at their room. Rachel and I then headed up to the Crow's Nest to hear Taylor Brown play the blues. Wow, he does amazing things all by himself with just a guitar - melody, chords, and even a little percussion. About half way through his set, he was joined by Andrew, the sax player from the Halcats, for some improv. Very nice indeed. We were starting to doze off by the time he finished at 11, so we headed down to our cabin.

Tonight's towel animal was my favorite of the cruise, a penguin. We were exhausted, and tumbled into bed, content at having had a double excellent day.

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