Some people can simply “be.” I am not one of those people. I’m especially not one of those people when I’m away from home. I recently traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with a herd of friends to attend a wedding. This was my third destination wedding, so I knew the drill: sleep late, eat plenty and drink/swim entire days away. The perfect vacation, if not for my complete inability to sit still. Fortunately, our resort was only about a mile from downtown Puerto Vallarta, which made “getting off the res” very doable.
Operating solely on headlines of drug wars, cartel violence and missing tourists, I was fairly worried about my safety while roaming about town. Any and all “research” into the subject matter consisted of asking coworkers who’ve been there if it was safe for a lady to run solo through town. The most common response was, “Why would you want to do that on vacation?” The few who understood suggested I run in a lady group, but not alone. I decided to do it anyway.
As I was lacing up my sneaks the morning after our arrival, I became a bit skittish about a possible abduction and opted for a beach run instead. The coastline is always more benign than unfamiliar city streets, unless you’re attempting to run down the rocky shore of the Pacific. I fought my way over rock piles and suffered a few twisted ankles before succumbing to trench foot. Eventually, the beach spit me out into the mean streets of Old Town. To my surprise and delight, the streets were actually very friendly. Shops were just starting to open for the day; their owners sweeping the sidewalks clean of sand and nodding “hola” in my direction.
The most famous feature of Old Town is El Malecon Boardwalk, where an endless parade of tourists and locals saunter between shops, restaurants and statues depicting various aspects of local life. I reached the bridge that crosses into La Zona Romantica and decided to duck into the side streets in search of the famous Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish). It wasn’t difficult to find – its crown dominates the city’s skyline.
Banners were strung across the streets announcing the evening’s festivities. We were visiting during the Feast of Guadalupe, which takes place every year from December 1st to the 12th. Nightly candlelit processions include dancing, music, floats and singing. The processions commmorate the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego on December 12th, 1531. Thousands of locals and visitors pack the area to participate, spectate and sample the various foods from street vendors.
These food vendors were setting up their stations accompanied by the sounds of a Sunday morning church service drifting out the open doors. The sun was shining warmly down through the peace flags lining the street. The occupants of passing cars crossed themselves. All of this created a magical setting that drew me in. I found a bench and could have easily sat there all day, but I needed to finish my run before it got too hot.
Along the way back to the hotel zone, I noticed how the area changed from small, clustered buildings lining narrow cobblestone roads, to expansive high-rise resorts lining a busy highway filled with speeding taxis and trucks. I finally gathered the nerve to run out in front of traffic and made it back to my resort in time to join my friends for breakfast. The breakfast buffet is hands-down the best part about staying in an all-inclusive. I love seeing the way other cultures prepare scrambled eggs and sampling a vast and foreign variety of fruits and pastries. While sharing my tales of adventure and discovery over two plates of food and five coffee refills, I managed to convince a small group of friends to venture back out that evening.
The six of us set out each night in search of nothing in particular, yet wanted to see and experience everything this town had to offer. After downing a few rounds of tequila at dinner one night, I deemed us “The Adventure Squad.” By simply wandering down dark side streets and peering into interesting nooks and crannies, we learned a lot about the city’s culture and took away some valuable lessons, like the importance of knowing a second language. We also formed new stories that we’ll tell for the rest of our lives, like Nathan’s “calling of the dinosaurs.” (More to come on that.)
This trip confirmed that I’m not good at sitting still. Honestly, I’ve never been good at it. As the “Nervous Nelly” in my family, my happiest days were spent biking, swimming, and running around the alley behind our house with my siblings. It was torture having to come inside for any reason other than to eat and sleep. Perhaps unstructured exploration is and always has been my way to just “be.”