(On August 26th, in the Mexican town of Teotihuacan, the flame for the 2011 Pan American Games was lit and the runner began its route through Mexico.)
We decided to spend a day in Puerta Vallarta before we flew back home. We met a couple on the plane to Mexico that made us promise to, at the very least, take a day trip into PV because it is so beautiful. Old PV, not Nueva PV where all the oversized resorts live. They were adamant. It sounded like a good idea. They gave us the name of the time share/hotel they stay in, some places to shop and a great restaurant for dinner. We were convinced and folded it into our plans.
Since there was no shopping in PLT I was looking forward to do some shopping. I was also ready to leave our eco resort survivalist meets paradise location. I was also ready to speak English. My brain was tired from trying to speak Spanish, trying to understand Spanish and acting like I understood Spanish when I had no idea what was being said. I was ready for a bit of civilization.
So we packed up a day early. Said our Adios’s and headed to Puerta Vallarta. All was going according to plan. There was a bit more cars on the mountain roads than we had encountered during our other day trips, but no problem really. We even found a car wash-a boy with hose-to clean the Jeep of the 2 weeks of caked on mud. We toyed with the idea of returning it to Thrifty Rental filthy, so they couldn’t see the scratches on the passenger side door that were not there 2 weeks ago. We also imagined that wasn’t an original plan and we would have to wait while they cleaned it running the risk of missing our plane. When we saw the hand written “car wash” sign-in English so we knew what the hell it was saying-we decided it was a sign from the above.
While we waited and waaiitted aannd waaaiiittted for our clean car, we perused the road side stand for goodies. Coco Fritos. What is that you ask? It’s a drink made by a woman with a machete. (Mexican women tend to be small and machetes are really big, so the image is quite alarming.) She whacks at the end of a coconut until she hits the inner nut creating an opening in which she places a straw. It looked like a lot of work to me. She smiled as she handed it to me. It was not that good, but it was hard to dispose of a whole coconut without being noticed. I offered it up to Tom. After we finished drinking the coconut milk she asked us something. I had no earthly idea what, but I said, “Si.” She took the coconut, whacked it in half with her machete, picked up the half that flew onto the dirt floor, wiped it off in water sitting in a plastic container (don’t drink the water in Mexico, don’t drink the water in Mexico, don’t drink the water in Mexico screamed through my head) scooped out some goopy white coconut meat into the other half and handed it back to us with a fork.
We acted like nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.
She offered a squeeze bottle full of what looks like hot sauce and either sugar or salt. “Do we want hot sauce, salt?” I think, “On coconut?” We decided to taste it first as she looked on expectantly. It was awful. Okay we will try the salt. She offered a lime. We immediately accepted. It tasted like a slimy margarita. “Muy bueno,” we lied, as we smiled and ate it.
We checked on the car. We were really ready to go. The kid was drying it. We began saying, “gracias, gracias” while we gestured, “Wrap it up por favor,” because I don’t know how to say, “we are really ready to go…now, right now.” I think he saw the urgency in our eyes and understood-we are out of here. We paid him 70 pesos-roughly $6.50 US-hopped back in our clean Jeep and headed for PV. Tom in his best conquistador voice announced, “Weeee goooooo to Pueerrtaa Valletta.”
A couple of miles outside of the city of Puerta Vallarta the traffic stopped. Not just slowed down but stopped dead. I used the time to plan my shopping expedition. I always bring something back for the kids when I am away, I wanted to get something for our neighbor who was getting our mail, perhaps some birthday and Christmas gifts for friends and I wanted to get us some Mexican pottery, maybe two candle scones like the ones in the PLT house for either side of our sliding glass door and a piece of hanging art. I hoped we would have time.
An hour later and a mile down the road, I was beginning to panic. My shopping time was being cut into. Tom put the window down and asked the guy next to us, hoping he spoke English, “Do you know what is going on?”
“The flame,” he replied.
“Si, the Olympic flame.”
Tom closed the window. “Which Olympics?” we wondered. We spend the next hour speculating. Can’t be the summer Olympics, it’s October. Maybe the winter? In Mexico? Maybe in the mountains. In Mexico?
We spotted an official looking man waving traffic through an intersection. We asked him, “What is GOING ON?” He explained, “It is the flame for the Pan American games and it is being run through PV. Puerta Vallarte is a crrrazzyy mess,” he announced, his fist waving quickly indicating just how crazy.
I was getting discouraged. It was mid afternoon, we were still in traffic and there seemed little hope it was getting better any time soon. I did my best deep breathing. I really wanted to go shopping and find some stuff.
Eventually traffic started to move on this four lane highway, but so did the crowds of people. They were crossing the road at intersections, mostly, but sometimes they stepped out from where they were standing. We were being very careful. We read in the AAA Mexico tour book that in Mexico you are guilty until proven innocent. In traffic accidents, the book explained, everyone is guilty. In some cases even the passenger. I didn’t want to go to jail. I was being as vigilant as Tom watching the crowd.
Then we saw it…The flame!
In the blocked lane along side of us were official cars, with lights flashing, moving slowly behind the flame. 4 runners on either side of it and decorated flat bed trucks which played music and carried scantily clad girls who waved blow up flame replicas to the crowds, in front of it. We slowly passed all of them. I thought to myself, “Well you don’t see that everyday, that was kinda cool,” as we picked up alittle speed.
45 minutes later, Tom parallel parked the car near a quaint square in PV and we climbed out of the car. We were exhausted and stiff but I saw shops! I didn’t even like the stuff I saw, it was typical beach junk, most likely made in China, but I was desperate.
Tom suggested we walk to the Malecon (boardwalk) to shop there. Really? I am feeling a bit testy. Tom is starting to get on my nerves. It does feel good to walk and I rationalize the shops on the Malecon will be more artzy. They are. Too expensive to make a purchase but great stuff.
We walked to another square that was full of people. It looked like an event had just happened or was about to. All kinds of stages and barricades were in place. I saw canopies with native Mexican art venders dotting the square. From a distance the art looked like it had purchase potential written all over it. I walked more quickly.
It began to rain. Seriously. Pour rain. I was so hot it felt good, but the art venders in the square began quickly putting their art away. I was beaten, defeated, I gave up. No shopping. I conceded I was going home empty handed. My kids would still love me and I would buy a Mexican bowl at Pier One.
“Let’s go get a drink,” Tom and I said in unison. We found a lovely place, out of the rain, on a second floor balcony over looking the Malecon and ocean. We sat down, exhaled and ordered margaritas. The waiter asked, in very clear English, “Would you like a big size or small size.” Our eyes met, “BIG.”
As we waited I let go of another layer of my shopping driven self. I let myself relax into PV. A new Mexican experience. Modern and quaint. Mexico for the American. Our margaritas arrive. We take a long drink. I like Tom again. This is pleasant. The rain has stopped and the air is slightly cooler. It’s a serene little spot. Momentarily.
In the distance we hear drums. A small marching band was headed our way. The quiet, out of the way spot we had found suddenly became alive with people and noise and drums.
We took another long sip of our margaritas. WHAT NOW?
Then I see it. (My long range vision is better than my short range.) I turn to Tom with wide eyes and my mouth opened.
“It’s the f*@#ing flame.”
43 days after it was lit, after traveling to every state in all of Mexico, after stopping traffic for 2 hours, it was here, right underneath us, the flame in all of it’s fanfare and glory.
We ordered another margarita. The big size.