On a bright morning in June, I’m paddling along in the calm waters of Banderas Bay, swaying this way and that as I try to remain standing. After twenty minutes of fighting to control my unwieldy board, the palm trees appear as miniatures on the horizon and the supple curve of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico lays before me — buildings ascending the hills, tendrils of fog climbing toward the Sierra Madre mountains.
The water has been calm and aside from ships zipping to and from the port, my guide and I seem to be the only ones in the entire bay.
“Hay tiburones en la bahía?” I ask. Are there sharks in the bay?
My guide wheels his board around like it’s an extension of his body and laughs. “Por qué? Quieres ver un tiburón hoy?” Why? Do you want to see a shark today?
He raises his eyebrow, a dare. I blink and decide he’s kidding.
“No, solo estaba…curiosa,” I explain.
“You won’t find sharks in Banderas Bay,” he tells me in English this time to allay my fears. (This, I later find out, is true — despite the fact that Puerto Vallarta is where straight-to-tv camp-horror disaster Sharktopus was shot.) The rest of the paddle feels distinctly more peaceful, and soon we’re headed back to shore where I’m staying at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa — outside of the fray of downtown, away from the noise of vendors walking the beach in the hotel zone.
It’s my first day in this coastal town, on the edge of Jalisco, so it’s time for me to post up at the pool and drink a boozy coconut or two. Relax. But if I tire of that, I can head downtown to hit the beer bars, perhaps. If I’m up for chasing the night, I can find live jazz or leave town and explore coffee country.
The world is my ostra. Also ostras are my ostra — because Puerto Vallarta has superb seafood.
This is not what I was expecting from Puerto Vallarta, a former fishing village and subsequent hot-spot for south-of-the-border getaways on the Pacific coast. Growing up, I had an image of P.V. in my head: home of the tempestuous love story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Home of never-leave-the-property resorts, of tourist bar-chain Señor Frogs. An Acapulco-esque escape. A city turned old and suburban and boring by its refusal to ditch the package tourist model.