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Hola mi amigos.  Como esta con tu Thanksgiving?  Alright, I’ll stop butchering the beautiful Spanish language, but I can't help trying to speak it.  It's addictive, especially when you have just returned from Mexico.  It's loco -- all I want to do is say “hola”  (hello) and "Buenos noches " (good night) to everyone I pass.  I also miss hearing Amber Airplane saying "quando costa?" (how much?) to shopkeepers. 

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I sure did, and will tell you all about my Turkey Day soon.  This week we are south of the border, in Puerto Vallarta.   Arriba! Arriba!  See -- I can't help myself.  If you want to see this beautiful city and speak some Espanol, then grab your walking shoes and cake on the sun block – we’re off to Mexico.  Don't forget your bathing suit either, because we’re not leaving this place without going for a dip in the warm Pacific Ocean. 
To tell you the truth, when I got invited to Mexico, I worried about three things: crime, tap water and the food.  I heard countless horror stories about all those things in Mexico, but I couldn't have been more wrong-- especially in beautiful Puerto Vallarta. 

First of all, I quickly learned there is very little crime in Puerto Vallarta (locals just call it Vallarta).  The reason is that this town survives mainly on tourism, and the locals are not stupido.  They realize that if tourists are afraid to come to their city, then most of the locals would lose mucho dinero.  The other reason there is little crime is that Mexicans are really warm people. That’s probably why in 2001, Puerto Vallarta was named by a Conde Nast Traveler poll as the friendliest city in the world.

I left off last week sitting in a  taxi on the way to my hotel from the airport.  I was staying at the Presidente InterContinental, one of the furthest hotels from the airport.  It's a 20-minute drive, but because I arrived on a Mexican national holiday there was so much traffic that it took twice that time.  I didn’t care, because the drive through this quaint Mexican port was very enjoyable and scenic.  I found it interesting to see an amazing number of pickup trucks full of locals.  You never see this where I’m from. 

I really like that Vallarta keeps an old-school feel to the town.  There are very few traffic lights, even though it must be crazy for a non-native to drive here. The only street lights I saw were around the airport and the Marina district.

Here's a taxi tip you can use in any city:  Don't get advice on where to eat from a taxi driver, even if he says the place you are going is bad.  As in cities around the world, many taxi drivers receive a commission from restaurants where they drop passengers off.  If you don't even like to take taxis, in Vallarta buses are a good alternative. They run frequently (usually from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.).  The fare is only 40 cents, but watch out for aggressive drivers (especially while crossing the street).   Supposedly, these guys are the most dangerous thing in Puerta Vallarta.  My Frommer’s guidebook said some busses even have names like Terminator or Rambo. I’m glad I didn't see any of those! 

Before I arrived at my hotel I whipped out my GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) cell phone to let Amber Airplane know I made it safely.  Using a cell phone in Mexico (or any foreign country, for that matter) is kind of tricky.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that partnered with the a company that sells international cell phones.  This is the same cell phone I used in Australia earlier this year.  With this cell phone I was able to have a local phone number, which is key for local friends or colleagues. They don't have to make expensive international calls back to the States to reach you, yet you can stay in touch with loved ones back home.  For example, a call from Australia to the U.S. (anytime) cost me just 17 cents a minute. If that low price wasn't enough, all incoming calls -- no matter where the person was calling me from -- were free.  What's also great about the phone is that you can use it in almost any country except the U.S.  
It's easy. You buy a GSM phone (preferably from and SIM card for the country you are going to.  Sliding the SIM card in the back of the phone gives you a local phone number and a predetermined amount of talk time.  When you run out of minutes, just go to a tobacco store, pharmacy, grocery store, gas station or newsstand, and purchase more minutes. It’s just like getting minutes for a calling card, which means you don't have to worry about getting home to find a gigantic bill waiting in the mail.   Like calling cards, you can find out how many minutes remain at any time.  This really is the best option for anyone who travels internationally, and wants the convenience and safety of a cell phone (even if it's only one time).  I put my phone to good use in Mexico, and the calls were very clear but not as cheap as in Australia.  Which doesn't make much sense since Mexico is so much closer than Australia.  Imagine that!  For more info check out's Mexico prepaid SIM card.

When I arrived at the  Presidente InterContinental hotel, it looked to be just an okay 4-star hotel. However, each day it got better and better.  The hotel isn't huge, and there is not a lot of property,  but the location is awesome.  It's right on the ocean, surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains.  At first I didn't like being so far away from town.  But after seeing how nice the trip into town was, and how cheap the taxis are, the 12-minute drive turned out to be ideal.  Besides, I think most people who stay here won't be going into town every day, especially after seeing the 100 yards of Vallarta's best beaches. They will just want to relax and enjoy the place.

We visited many hotels in Vallarta. Not all of them have nice beaches, especially the ones in the Marina area (it's built on swamp land).  However, the hotels all overcompensate by having really nice pools. That is perfect for people who don't like to swim in the ocean.  The pool at our hotel was small but really nice, and included a swim-up pool bar.  

My room was spacious with tiled floors, but had a musty smell.  It turned out the odor came from two of my four pillows (which I had replaced) and the bread spread.  This seemed to be an isolated problem, because of the 15 other travel writers there, I was the only one with a musty room.  I recommend this hotel because they will renovate their rooms early next year, when they roll out their "AcquaSensia" concept. All those musty things I had will be replaced.  

AcquaSensia means that the hotel will focus on the guest’s mind, spirit and happiness. They will add many new amenities, including a pillow menu (foam, feather, soft, firm...). Along with the renovations, the hotel will not allow anyone under 18.  I think this will be a big challenge, because I saw many guests with children.  However, it would have been nice to lie in bed listening to the pounding surf at 8 a.m. without hearing kids yelling in the pool for mom to hurry up and bring their toys. 

Unlike most hotels, the lobby was not located on the ground. Instead it was smack in the middle of the fifth floor!  I’m not sure why they did this but it worked well, and gave their fine restaurant a fantastic view.   My room was on the  8th floor.  Not only did it have a nice view, but there was a basket of fruit by the elevator (which I often took advantage of).  Presidente InterContinental; Carretera a Bara de Navidad km 8.5, Zona Hotelera Sur, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; tel.: 011.52.322.228.0507.

I quickly unpacked, threw on some sandals and went downstairs to meet the travel writers I would be with for the next three nights.  Everyone was really cool. They came from popular publications like, the New York Post, Dallas Post, Tampa Bay Magazine, Travel Savvy Magazine and others.

We took a tour, and our first stop was the Molino de Agua for  drinks.  This hotel is close to downtown, at the mouth of the Cuale River.  We sat outside under a tented roof, surrounded by rubber and mango trees.  Thirty years ago this was called the Jungle Inn -- a fitting name, because sitting out there felt like the jungle.   Molino de Agua; tel.: (322) 222-1957.

At this hotel I had my first encounter with my second fear of Mexico: tap water.  The waiter poured everyone water from a pitcher. I thought there was no way I would drink it. I noticed some of the journalist had the same feeling, while others were sipping away. Taking no chances, I ordered a Sprite -- and was bummed when the waiter poured it into a glass full of ice!  I was thirsty and did not want to make a scene, so I lowered my glass below the table and started flipping ice cubes with my fork onto the ground.  If I hadn’t been so thirsty I would not have done that, but I was jonesing for something to drink. Later, I learned that the water is safe to drink at all Puerto Vallarta’s major hotels and good restaurants, because all use filtered water.  I wish I found that out before I used a whole bottle of bottled water to brush my teeth!   FYI:  I drank the tap water from then on, and even chewed (my mom would be so dissapointed) on the ice (not in large quantities). I never had any problems.

After drinks at the Molina, we went into town for dinner.  That was where my final fear ("How safe is the food?) was extinguished.  This was my biggest surprise. I thought we would eat tacos and burritos every night.  Wrong!  It turns out that Puerta Vallarta has some of the best restaurants in the world.  Who would have thought it?  Many chefs are from Europe, or trained there.  In Vallarta you can get everything from fast food (unfortunately) to the finest French dishes.  It also didn't hurt that we were in town during the  9th Annual Gourmet Festival .  This event alone is a reason to go there.  Eighteen of the city's top restaurants gather the crème de la crème of the culinary world.  During this week some of the best local and international chefs prepare special menus nightly. Reservations are highly recommended.

We were fortunate to have reservations at some of the best restaurants in town.  We ate like kings, and meals there were like going out to dine in Europe.  In the finest restaurants dinner is an event, and takes a l-o-n-g time.  Some meals were three hours long -- a far cry from the U.S.! 

The first  restaurant we went to was Café des Artistes. It was incredible. Their renowned chef, Thierry Blouet, also prepares AeroMexico's exclusive Clase Premier specialties.  We sat outside in the garden -- a very romantic setting -- and again felt like we were in the jungle (but a lot nicer).  It was dark, and the stairs were lit by motif candles.  We sampled most of AeroMexico's dishes they serve in Premier class.  I might just have to fly AeroMexico just to eat.  The food was delicious.  My favorites were the chilled coconut soup and two desserts.  You have to love the presentation of the creme brulee.  Café des Artistes; Guadalupe Sánchez 740, Centro Puerto Vallarta, Méxicol; tel.: 01 (322) 22 232 28 / 29.
Wow -- I just glanced over what I wrote, and it's long. I better say adios amigos, and finish up our trip to Puerto Vallarta next week.  Then I will tell you all about my crazy Thanksgiving! 

Happy travels, 

Johnny Jet

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author of Weekend Adventures in Northern California

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