The MEXICO Report
By Susie Albin-Najera
For the last 20 years I’ve been traveling to Vallarta so often that it would be safe to say that it is my home-away-from-home. I recently traveled to Puerto Vallarta for a quick four day getaway with my husband and three kids. Yes, three kids. My husband says having three kids proves he’s Mexican. Now, it’s not like the old days when I would fly down and spontaneously trek all over town. Eat where I want. Sunbathe when I want. Now, there’s schlepping involved. And schedules. And nap times, but no nap time for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with all of that. Did I mention my kids are ages five, three and one?
I have always stayed in a condo or hotel, but never an all-inclusive place before. But this time, since we were a family of five, we decided to book one. I was skeptical since the moment I clicked ‘accept purchase’ on the website; it just seemed like the price was too good to be true. We booked our hotel at Playa Los Arcos Suites, in the heart of the romantic zone. It seemed like a decent place in an area in which I was familiar.
When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and presented with yellow wristbands that allowed us to eat anything we wanted, whenever we wanted. The hotel was across from the beach and had specially planned daily activities for the kids. It had an enormous pool and a separate shallow one for toddlers. After unpacking we decided to venture over to Mi Pueblito Restaurant on the beach which serves Mexican and international cuisine. However, when you sit on the beach you become instantly popular with beach vendors. We ended up buying the dolphin package from one of the vendors who told us that someone would be waiting for us in the lobby the following day. This was what a family vacation should be!
So we faithfully arrived in the lobby the next day at three o’clock sharp and there waiting was Don Julio. Which sounds more like tequila to me. He had a small yellow taxi. Really small. How are we going to fit this huge double stroller into that trunk? Cut to: all five of us doubled up in the back seat with the huge double stroller lounging leisurely in the front passenger seat. Off we go.
An hour later we arrive to the Vallarta Adventure’s Dolphin Excursion. All three kids are asleep. Not fun. We check in and wait in the observation deck where we can see all the dolphins doing their tricks for the tourists. The excitement and adrenaline starts kicking in. We’re next. Najera party of five. We go inside with our guide Guillermo and strip down to our bathing suits, yes even baby donned a swimsuit. Our adventure was called the ‘Family Dolphin Encounter’ which is great for parents with young children. After a 90 second dolphin 101 course, we are ready to get in. Once you climb down the little ladder into the water, you have to stand on a raised platform. As soon as we hit the water, all of a sudden photographers came out of nowhere. And they’re shooting us in the water. Maybe they’re paparazzi. I think maybe they know my husband. He’s a comedy writer and actor, maybe they’ve seen some of his work. He’s been on TV and in films. Oh. They are paid ‘dolphin’ employees taking photos of you in the water so you can buy them later at $25 each. Anyway, we play with our own private dolphin, and the kids feed her, kiss her and rub her belly.
Soon our time in the water was up. We are escorted out and down to the store where you can see all of the photos of yourself with the dolphins. How can you resist all of those high-resolution photos of you and your family? About $125 later with a Kodak disc in hand, we made our way out of there. But then it started to rain, no pour. Yes, it rains in Puerto Vallarta. Luckily, a cab driver was standing right there and willing to give us a ride for $40. Oh, no, I’m not paying $40 for a cab ride after we just spent hundreds of dollars for some fish photos. So we wait in the rain for another taxi. Except none are coming and we are soaked. It didn’t take long for me to think that $40 was an excellent deal.
We arrived safely back to our hotel and quickly made our way back to the restaurant on the beach, just in time for dinner. Eating seemed to be the theme of the trip. However, the stipulation was that we had to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same restaurant. I just know I’ve gained at least 10 pounds by now.
The next day after breakfast at the same beach restaurant, we decided to go swimming. Julian, our five-year old made a lot of friends in the pool as kids will do. It had been a while since I’ve been in a two-piece bathing suit, with having three kids and all in the last five years. I figured, even through there were some hot bodies at the pool, how many of them had three kids? I deserve a metal. Now, time at the pool is not really like “whoo-hoo we’re having fun”, it’s more like I have to make sure my kid doesn’t drown or do a ‘you know what’ in the pool. Having a baby in the pool is a different thing too. You have to put a swimmy diaper on your baby, not for any other reason than to hold the poop in, should one occur. Now, the baby might pee, but you’d really never know it. No one would. But after about five minutes in the pool, the baby’s diaper was so full of absorbed water, it must have weighed close to 80 pounds. Trying to subtly remove the diaper under her bathing suit was like watching a comedy. Only I wasn’t laughing, I was trying to look inconspicuous as I darted to the first available garbage can for disposal. Luckily there were four huge live iguanas around the pool to take the attention away from my escapade.
The next day was our last one, so we tried to see a little bit of the town with the kids. We ventured up to one of my very favorite little places called ‘Choco Banana’. I’m amazed that this place is still in business. More than 20 years ago, there was an old lady, petite and hunched over who used to sell chocolate covered frozen bananas on the beach, Playa Los Muertos. She would shout out “Choco Banana, Choco Banana”, over and over again. You could hear her coming a mile away. We always bought one just to see her smiling face. She is long gone now, but having a Choco Banana is customary for any trip to Vallarta.
Later that day, after swimming in the pool, we inquired about a hotel babysitter. Since it was our last night, I figured I better try to get a massage in or at least a manicure. Before I knew it, Rick had a babysitter booked for 5 o’clock sharp. Rosie promptly arrived to our room at 5:00 p.m., with supplies in hand for the kids. The day had quickly turned into evening and the rain started to come down. No problem. Rick and I ventured out. It was kind of romantic. We head straight to the massage place, ‘Sol y Luna’ around the corner. We select the services we like and part into different rooms. The rain is getting harder. It’s been ages since I’ve had a facial, so I go for that first. I changed into the robe and descended on the massage bed. Thunder and lightening came into the mix. But event at this point, I still didn’t mind the bad weather. I was just excited to get my facial. However, about 10 minutes into it, with an ultra hydrating masque covering my face, my prediction came true. All the lights in Vallarta suddenly went out. So I’m flat on my back on the cold massage table, with my face resembling that of a scary ghost, and I think about my kids who are without us and in a hotel room with a babysitter and no lights.
Like a mummy awakening from it’s tomb, I call out to my husband in the next room. He answers. I have kids on my mind and a mask on my face. My relaxing facial would have to be postponed indefinitely. The owners of the massage place lit some candles, enough light so I could get dressed and peel out of there. With masque remnants on my face, dodging every loitering human en route, we bolt directly to our room and burst in. Two out of the three kids are asleep and Julian was happily amused looking out our bedroom window at the fun lightening illuminating the dark night in old Town Vallarta. We relieve the babysitter and are relieved ourselves.
Since the night was still young, we packed the kids into the stroller and headed back to the beach restaurant for our last supper. Freshly caught mahi mahi, marinated in garlic was my everyday favorite, along with a tangy and sweet limonada. Don’t forget the chocolate cake for dessert. In all, we paid less, ate well, lost weight, made friends, and most importantly, had fun. We left the next morning. Until the next adventure with mi familia…