Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta is the stuff dreams are made of. It’s beautiful, but slightly rough around the edges. It’s lived in. It’s equal parts ebb and flow. It’s buzzing with life, and quiet with leisure.

Its craggy roads wind through hilly terrain, even downtown where residences, shops, restaurants, and resorts have been built in like little puzzle pieces. The hills turn mountainous as you leave town and the roads become one long and curvy one that hugs the coast below. 

Its wildlife is beautiful, and of course just so foreign to what we’re used to seeing when we walk outdoors. In fact, I often wonder… are palm trees such a beautiful sight to everyone, or just those of us for whom they signify temporary bliss? It’s hard to say, because I’m still as taken by fall foliage and towering evergreens today as I’ve always been, no matter how many times I’ve seen them.

One of my very favorite moments of the entire trip was on our first full day and first trek into town. We were all hungry and vying for street meat and stumbled upon an older man and woman grilling on the beach, surrounded by brightly colored umbrellas and tables full of people lounging and sun bathing. The couple was selling Pacifico (our beer of choice for the week) and grilling long skewers of shrimp, Mahi Mahi, onions and peppers, bright orange and slathered with an adobo garlic oil. They were grilled and basted to absolute juicy, spicy perfection. We squeezed them with lime and devoured them, ordering second and third rounds and slurping down a paper plate full of freshly shucked oysters in between rounds. This entire scenario, from the food to the experience to the sights, was exactly what the doctor ordered for our first real taste of Puerto Vallarta.

Our food adventures didn’t end there, and neither did our experiences with perfectly and simply executed seafood and dirt cheap beer. Nearly every taco stand, restaurant, and bar that we tried was incredible, whether in the center of town or on a remote beach. Hot grills covered in chicken and pork and beef, the meat dripping with whatever secret combination of spices/fats/oils/herbs these people have been blessed with knowing for years and years and years. Street tacos just don’t taste this good at home. Maybe it’s the vacation talking, the slightly-buzzed-at-11-am talking, but I swear there’s at least a little truth to it. And with every street taco comes all the important fixins, including the best guacamole you’ve ever had, a range of hot sauces that not even the mildest of which I could handle, fresh radish and cucumber, diced white onion, and cilantro. I’m still dreaming about these tacos—so good that even if we were all too full, we learned how to make room for one more taco when we stumbled upon a packed al pastor place with a 30 minute wait for tacos to-go. Worth. the. wait! (and weight).

The open air restaurants were my favorite part, allowing every meal to feel like we weren’t missing anything by being closed up inside four walls while the world turned outside. We were part of the outside air and sun and sounds, getting berated by hustlers selling all sorts of crafts, bands playing guitars and drums, and other tourists strolling by. And even though we had it nearly every meal, fresh tortilla chips, guacamole, and pico de gallo refused to get old—it was truly dynamite everywhere we had it. 

We did a pretty intense forest hike to a waterfall where we cliff-jumped into the almost emerald green, chilly water below and swam underneath the waterfall. I was a little shocked that I took the jump, and also a little shocked I didn't lose my string bikini top and flash a bunch of innocent bystanders in the process, but that was the thing about the elixir of this trip—it seemed to take you over and make you surprise yourself. I love that about traveling.

This was really my first time going on vacation with a group so large, and one of both guys and girls. There were 10 of us, split between 4 rooms, and we spent almost 24-7 together. We were strangely in-tune and in-line with one another’s preferences, spending most mornings poolside at our resort and then venturing out to whatever we felt like exploring that day, with the nights ending with either the occasional trip to Weirdville if the tequila intake had done us right, or an early and relaxed bus ride home from town after a long dinner. Regardless, everyday was full of so much fun and many, many laughs.

I love the power of photographs taken with a real camera. I think the time and effort and thought that goes into each picture helps sustain a presence in the moment that is remembered forever through the photo. When I look at these, I can almost smell the smells and hear the sounds of each captured scene. And the bright light blowing out some pictures, although probably not great from a photography perspective, immediately takes me back to squinting through sunglasses and sweat underneath the hot sun.

The friendliness and openness of nearly everyone we came in contact with was something we all couldn't get over, and something to not take for granted. Every local that we met, whether our bartender, server, concierge, shop keeper, passerby, was just so friendly and open to chat. The language barrier feels like nothing in Puerto Vallarta; there just seems to be so much willingness on both sides to somehow make it work. Humor, though, is one of those things that in so many ways knows no language, and with the cast of hooligans on our trip, humor was most assuredly on our side. 

After one perfect afternoon trying out a beach a little further out of town, we all took turns judging the timing of the crashing ocean waves to jump aboard a fishing boat that drove us to an even more remote beach and village. This is where we played with hermit crabs with some really sweet little girls who lived there, and became really friendly with the beach's only bar—equipped with rope swings in lieu of stools. 

On the boat ride home, a little while before sunset, we jumped off the boat for a quick middle-of-the-ocean swim. The water was dark, freezing, and salty and, like everything else on this trip, felt bizarrely perfect in the moment.

Puerto Vallarta, and this vacation, will hold such a special place in my heart. What a fun, wild, and beautiful trip. The case of wanderlust that ensued after arriving back home hit me harder than ever. Onto the next one!