PVR 8.0

My post about the last day and trip home is overdue. Some highlights: Caroline had not booked a cabana for our last morning, but she was able to snag one of the two giant wicker couches at the poolside. Usually competition for these is at pretty much the level of Hunger Games, but it was cloudy and spitting the odd raindrop, so perhaps someone chickened out.

Comedy of elevator errors when I got back from my walk and Caroline was not at the terrace table where I left her. She had taken my hoodie and coffee mug to our room, but had not lingered there. As usual after one of my beach walks, I was wet and covered in sand. Really? I used to be on the beach patrol in Australia; I should be able to wade in the surf without getting drenched! After I showered and dressed in my fly-home-to-the-cold clothes, I tried the restaurant again, but could not find her. Returned to the room, assuming we had played hide and seek with the two elevators, only to find that I had neglected to put my keycard in my pants pocket. Locked out. Back to the pool, and found her on aforementioned sofa.

Things went really well after that. The Hilton PVR is only minutes from the airport, and we had a taxi to ourselves. No line-up for check in, and no line-up for security (I mean it: load the bins and walk on through) Our WestJet flight crew was motivated to get back to Winnipeg, and the plane was only two thirds full, so they had no trouble making a quick turnaround. Not only did we score a vacant seat in our row of three, we were the only people in the six front-row seats. This row is not everyone’s favourite, as the TVs are far away and you may get drafted for exit-row obligations, but the leg-room is extravagant.

As usual, the flight crew were unknown to me. Despite having more than a dozen former colleagues at WestJet, I never seem to fly with one of my old friends. Next best thing, though, we got a thumping tailwind and shaved half an hour off the return trip, landing in Winnipeg at 1600. It wasn’t even dark yet!

Breezed through immigration, despite having an uneaten Mexican pear in my carry-on. I declared it, in case it needed to be properly disposed of, but they let me keep it. Baggage took a few minutes, but Caroline’s “international orange” suitcase is easy to spot, and mine is also moderately distinctive. No line at customs, so we zipped through that, too. Claimed car, grabbed a Timmies dark, and hit the road home. This would have been great, except for two things: the temperature had dropped into the minus twenties, causing frost to form on the travel mug I left in the car, cooling my coffee instantly to barely warm, and we had to drive home without tunes because the valet had killed the car’s battery. A clue to how this happened was that the hatchback glass was not secure. I suspect that the valet had hit the wrong button on the key, causing the cargo light to stay on all week.They had boosted it, but the GPS was offline, the trip meter had reset to zero and the window wouldn’t auto-open. More first-world problems. How much can one man take?

Took a minute to gas up in Winnipeg and clean last week’s coating of frozen road-spray off the windows and headlights. I always think this is time well-spent for a night drive, but it sure was refreshing; Winnipeggers need to have a word with someone- the heat’s not working!

Easy drive home to Kenora. Stopped at Keewatin Place for bread, milk and orange juice, then went out for dinner with a friend.

PVR 7.1

Spent the rest of the day loafing quietly around the hotel. Finally managed to meet a guest who actually came from Britain. All the other ones I tried turned out to be British expats who now live in Canada or the USA. It takes twelve hours from Gatwick to here, apparently. That would be like us flying to Hawaii or something; I don’t think I’d find it worth that much trouble.

The coffee reverted to about a three on my new ten-point scale today. Out of desperation, I ordered an espresso and threw it into my half-empty travel mug. This brought it up to about a six. It was so good last year, I don’t know what happened. The travel mug was my best idea this year. Coffee gets cold fast on the outdoor restaurant terrace at 0700, and the hotel cups are accordingly small, which means you have to spend the whole morning flagging down waiters. So giant insulated cup with lid was great.

The Kobo was also a lifesaver, and the bluetooth earphones came in handy for drowning out people who are even more annoying than me.

We went up to the sushi bar / rooftop pool this afternoon, just for a change of scenery. This was also the first time I actually put on a bathing suit and got wet deliberately. We met some friendly and fun-loving people, so we did not stay long. (Forgot to bring my headphones!) Besides, it’s a smoking area.

We had heard reports of unusually late maid service here, and found them to be true. Once our room was done at around noon, but more usually in the middle of the afternoon. Today the maid didn’t knock on the door until five o’clock. We declined, as it wasn’t a convenient time to vacate the room. Besides, it’s our last night.

Not looking forward to the trip home much. We’ve had enough time here, I’m just not very excited at the prospect of the whole airport and flying thing. I realize this is ironic for a professional pilot, but do you enjoy doing stuff on vacation that reminds you of work? Also, I was anticipating being able to get to the car for winter coats and boots while we wait for our luggage in Winnipeg, and then I remembered that we’ll have to claim the bags first to go through Canada Customs. Oh well.

Looking forward to seeing the cats and being pointedly ignored.

PVR 6.1

Okay then. We cabbed to the Cathedral and walked to our old haunts from there. Got completely lost for a few blocks; everything has changed so much! Then we found Daquiri Dick’s and things started to look more like we remembered. Andale’s is gone. I wasn’t sure I remembered it from last year; I guess not. Tres Huastecas is still there, and so is Cafe de Olla, although it was closed for Christmas. That let us off the hook in one way. We had hoped to change some money in order to eat there, but all the money exchanges were closed. Probably because the banks were.

So we just walked around for a while. Suites Claudia and the Villa Blanca are still there, and so is the manager from the VB that we remember from twenty five years ago. He manages both of those buildings now, and neither of them is a hotel any more. Both have become condos.

Another of our old hotels, the Las Glorias has taken the name of it’s sister property across the road, so it is now known as the Hotel Suites Emperador, and it seems to have expanded. Restaurant row on Basilio Badillo has seen some changes, but Fredy’s Tucan is still going and I see Roberto’s Puerto Nuevo hasn’t closed after all, it has simply moved across the street from where it used to be. We made no attempt to go inland far enough to see if La Hacienda or Los Arbolitos are still around. I could google them, I suppose, but that’s not the same as walking down memory lane.

Snagged another cab to come back to the hotel. We’ll eat here after all. Caroline’s not really in the mood for pasta, but she’ll just have to suck it up. That’s a spaghetti joke, son. Try not to take everything so seriously.

PVR 6.0

Apparently I cannot count. Today is not day 6, tomorrow is. Oh well, I’m not going to go back and renumber everything now. But part of me wants to!

Down for breakfast early again today, as the staff were just getting set up. Most of them probably had a late night last night, but not one of them showed the slightest sign of having over indulged. Coffee rated an eight on my ten point scale, which I just instituted today.

I cringe whenever I see someone open the glass doors to the restaurant by placing their hand on the glass. The staff spend all day wiping off the prints. No wonder they jump to open the door for you! I am very careful now to only touch the handles. There is a young man on the staff, Marco, who we see everyday cleaning the mirrors in the elevators, and polishing the stainless steel doors. He must have the temperament of a saint. I would go berserk on my first day, and they would never get the bloodstains off.

We both thought it would be a nice day to walk on the beach, as it was cool and would likely be quiet all morning. Caroline quickly decided the sand was uncomfortably cold and chickened out. I set off to walk as far towards town as I could manage, and made it to the south end of the designated turtle hatchery zone. I soon found out it was much warmer to walk at the edge of the surf, where the warm water had taken the night chill off the sand.

I waded through one of the little rivers, and that’s where I stopped to photograph these birds, which I assume are egrets.

Waders

There were sandpipers, too, and pelicans, but they didn’t let me get close.

Got caught by a wave on the way back, and thoroughly splashed to the waist. I did see it coming a few seconds in advance, but was not quick enough to escape, or quick-thinking enough to hurl my smartphone to safety on the dry sand. Luckily, the phone was not affected, but I dared not return it to my saltwater soaked pocket.

Back to the hotel to check in with Caroline and get a change of clothes. Napped until the maid came, then bailed out and went to sit with C at the cabana. Over lunch, we decided we would like to get a proper look at the south side at least once during this trip, so unless the weather turns rainy, we are going to take a cab downtown in the afternoon, walk around a little, and go to the Cafe de Olla for supper. I didn’t think they would be open today, but their website doesn’t say they’re closed, so we’ll go see.

Only a handful of restaurants still remain from our first visits to PV. Pizza Joe’s morphed into an art gallery years ago, Puerto Nuevo came, prospered and went. Cafe Adobe burst onto the scene in a flurry of great reviews but faded away again just as fast. Same with the Argentine place. Last year, we noticed that Tres Huastecas is still going, as were Andale’s and a few others we used to eat at. The Choco-Banana lady turned into a kiosk. Let me rephrase that. The Choco-Banana lady turned her business into a kiosk. Sometimes writing is more fun if you don’t stop to think too hard about the grammar!

More after supper.

PVR 5.1: Una Navidad en Mexico

Our Christmas plans this year were modest, but I am reminded of another winter in Puerto Vallarta when we were invited to join a Mexican family for La Navidad.

We were staying in a small hotel on the south side, the Suites Claudia, which has just two suites on each of the six or seven floors, plus a penthouse suite at the top. As Christmas approached, all of the American guests checked out, and a pair of large black SUVs with tinted windows appeared in the parking lot.

To my surprise, one evening as we were getting ready for bed, there was a knock at our door. A young man asked if I spoke Spanish and explained that his family had taken over every room in the hotel except ours to unite for the holidays, with half of them coming from Guadalajara, and the rest from Mexico City. Did we have plans? Would we care to join them on Christmas Eve? I had enough Spanish to stall, saying I would have to talk to my wife.

We spent the next day asking our expatriate acquaintances if this invitation was genuine, or merely a polite way of warning us that there would be a noisy party in the building. It was sure to be sincere, we were told. Hank and Conrad were especially insistent that we should go. They had spent many winters here, and have scores of Mexican friends, but had never been offered such an invitation.

At somewhere around ten or eleven at night, we made our way up to the penthouse and knocked. Despite trying to guess what qualified as fashionably late here, the party had not even begun. The women were all in the kitchen cooking, and a teenager was sent running downstairs to fetch the two university students with the best English. Most of the parents and young children were destroying pinatas down by the pool.

This young man and woman sacrificed most of their family time to be our host and hostess, and I learned more about Mexico that night than in all my other vacations combined.

We were introduced to everyone, even the bodyguard. I assume that’s what he was, he was huge, he was wearing a powder blue sport coat in sweltering heat, and he usually stood where he had a clear field of fire across the sunken living room. When we embraced, I tried to tell if he was carrying a pistol. He probably returned the courtesy.

We spoke Spanish, they spoke English. We couldn’t discuss anything with subtlety, but it got the job done with the minimum amount of confusion. Mostly.

“Is it true that no-one in Canada gets married?” the young lady wanted to know. I was baffled, and then I realized that what she wanted to know was whether anyone waited for marriage to have sex. This must be what it feels like to be from Sweden. At the time, I did not know any Canadian, male or female, who married as a virgin, but I chose an answer that I hoped was more diplomatic: “Everyone gets married… eventually.”

Close to midnight, she asked us what our religion was, and whether we wanted to stay for the religious part of the evening. I told her I was Church of England. My private school educated me that way, back in the day. Then I had to explain the Church of England. Just like Catholic, I said, except no Pope and not so much Mary. And all because Henry VIII wanted a divorce.

This led to the Spanish Armada, by the way, which was conceived as a plan to kill Elizabeth I, Henry’s heir, and bring Britain back under the papacy. A woman on the throne of a major power? Surely that has to be some kind of sin! But I digress.

There were hail Marys. I do not know if they were in Spanish or Latin, because the languages are quite similar, but I fondly remember the patriarch of the family looking up from his page of devotions periodically to straighten the candle of the little boy who was standing in front of him. Most likely a great-grandson. No point spoiling a holiday with burns, after all.

After this came the ritual of Joseph and Mary. I got the gist of this, but I hope anyone with more familiarity will forgive any errors in my interpretation. The penthouse suite had an enormous balcony, spanning the whole building, and huge folding doors in the master suite, the living room and the kitchen that opened onto it. A group went out onto the balcony and the doors were closed. At the first door, Joseph pleaded, in song, for a room at an inn for his pregnant wife, but was turned away. At the second door, he pleaded for shelter at a (humbler?) inn, and was turned away. At the third door, the inn had no room, but welcomed the couple in to shelter in the stable. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Then the entire party was divided into two rows, with men on one side, facing women on the other. I feared we would be expected to dance. But wait, it gets better. I was handed two corners of a baby blanket and shown how to hold them. Caroline, across from me, was given the other two corners. A porcelain baby Jesus was produced and laid in the blanket between us, suspended above the marble floor as if in a loose hammock. This china doll looked to me like a family heirloom, probably brought all the way from the city in a lot of packing material. I did not care to contemplate the consequences if I were to cause it to fall on the hard floor. But wait, it gets better. As guests of honour, Caroline and I got first crack at rocking Jesus to sleep by swinging him in the blanket. Everyone else sang a lullaby while we did this. I was concentrating on my sweaty grip. But wait, it gets better. We had to hand him to the next couple, without stopping the gentle swinging motion. Somehow, Jesus and we survived, and the little guy went all the way down the line. By the end of this, I knew the words to the lullaby.

Then the little doll was passed around so that we could all kiss him and be blessed. One little toddler didn’t want to do it, so after giving her a little time while others took their turns, they came back and tried to interest her again. Nope. They didn’t push the issue. Jesus is a pretty forgiving kind of guy, after all.

It was a relief to sit down and be offered something as simple and safe as eating while sitting on a couch. The food was not like home. There was a broth of fish to start. Perhaps it represents the disciples or something. There was a fruit salad, made with sweetened condensed milk. There was something that may have been chicken in molé sauce. It may have been something else entirely – it was probably what all the mortars and pestles in the kitchen were used for. It was one of the spiciest dishes I have ever eaten anywhere. It made my palate swell. It tasted like tobacco leaves in habanero sauce. I smiled bravely.

A while after dinner, we made our excuses and left this generous and welcoming family to keep each other company. But what a wonderful gift they gave us.

¡Feliz Navidad!

PVR 4.0

If I was sticking to any kind of real system for titling these posts, this would be PVR 5.0 as I am writing it on Day 5. However it is about Day 4, and should have been written and posted yesterday. Be glad it was not, for it would have been truly grumpy!

Yesterday did not go well. Not in any terrible way – we didn’t miss a plane or get hit by a bus. In those small ways that rob you of life’s little pleasures. All day I was plagued by weak coffee. I concede that this is a “first world problem” of the most banal order, but still. The coffee here was so good last year! I should have bought a barrel and had it shipped to Canada. I could have pumped a cupful out of it every day. By now I’d be down to the sludge at the bottom. Heavenly! Every time I lifted my travel mug yesterday it was like drinking warm dishwater. One of them was so bad that I took it back to my room and poured it down the sink. Which promptly clogged on the coffee grounds. How they got so many grounds in it without infusing some flavour escapes me. Even the stuff at the actual coffee bar where I do my writing wasn’t much better.

There was a mix-up over the poolside cabanas. They were still able to accommodate Caroline in one she likes, so it was just the awkwardness of the double booking and all the fussing and apologizing. The cabanas are really just little gazebos that provide adjustable shade for two lounge chairs and a little table. They provide no protection against the family next door that struggled to discipline their little boy for trying to drown his little brother over his failure to share toys. I was spared overhearing it, but I gather the consequence for this transgression was the cancellation of his acquiring a toy he wanted, with the additional requirement that he explain which of his actions brought this penalty about. He was apparently very reluctant to put it into words, so perhaps this is an effective deterrent. I think perhaps I could approve of this kind of parenting, but I prefer to disapprove of all parenthood on a blanket basis.

We walked to Wal-Mart after breakfast to buy Caroline some walking shoes. The shoes aren’t perfect, but they are better than flip-flops for walking. It will also give her something other than sandals to wear for the return trip to Winnipeg. It’s forecast to turn cold again the day we go back.

My homework was a challenge. I had to constructively criticize some samples of professional writing by renowned authors. Since one of the samples made me angry, one left me cold, and one baffled me, this was difficult. Some decent coffee would have helped!

Dinner was a trial. Many of the poorest TripAdvisor reviews of this Hilton call attention to the overabundance of Mexican food at the buffet restaurant. I think A) this is absurd by definition, and B) the Mexican food is excellent. However, last night the theme appeared to be Tex-Mex. Our Mexican cooks seem to be perplexed by this cuisine. Hard shelled tacos pre-filled and served cold. A variety of fajita fillings, but only corn tortillas to put them in. Gristly spare-ribs. I am not kidding when I say the coleslaw was the best thing to touch my plate last night. Caroline forlornly made three attempts at the buffet, returning each time either empty handed or with something she could not bring herself to finish. Eventually she resorted to the pizza put out in the kid’s zone. It was doughy, and she ate only half a child-sized slice. The best she did was a tiny bun with some cold meat and cheese.

Adding to the misery of this meal was the blaring country music. This was our first clue that the strangely bad “Mexican” food was actually strangely bad “American” food. I am not a Tanya Tucker fan, leaning more towards ZZ Top. If the music wasn’t enough to drive me out, a big family sat near us and promptly got all over my last nerve. They were feeding their six kids cereal for supper, and complained to the wait staff that the bowls were not clean enough.

We fled to our room. I was in no mood to be my usual cheerful blogself. It is hard to be tongue in cheek when you are grinding your teeth. Cheered myself up by reading a chunk of Destiny’s Blood, rollicking good space opera by Marie Bilodeau, who is one of my tweeps. I plan to finish it while I wait for Caroline at the hair salon this afternoon. So far, I would confidently recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Star Wars.

PVR 3.2

Apart from my morning walk today, we stayed fairly close to the hotel. I tried out the coffee bar on the second floor, in fact I plonked myself down with my tablet and keyboard and wrote a short story there. Rewrote one, anyway, giving it an ending for the first time. I’m quite pleased with it, but I’ll have to wait til tomorrow to see if it really worked.

Our joint excursion was an outing to find a hair salon for Caroline. There is not one in the hotel, but there is one just a block away. They did a great job of straightening her hair while I sat and read on their couch. They didn’t get her bangs right, but she was able to fix them back in our room. Her hair looked perfectly straight for about an hour, and then the seaside frizzies began their assault.

My homework email finally showed up, so I spent a chunk of the afternoon doing a little of the required reading. The course doesn’t actually start until January, but there is some preliminary stuff now.

We decided to break out of our rut and have dinner at La Delice, the a la carte French restaurant on the property. After what the Seafire did to the beef Wellington last night, I had to have the filet mignon just to get some red meat that was still red. There was a real wine list available at the restaurant, but you have to pay for it, and I didn’t see anything that cried out to me, so we stuck with the house wines. I give them a good grade on the French onion soup. This dish is often poisonously salty, but not here. It was dangerously hot, but I approve of that! My salad Lyonnaise was okay, but Carolines Nicoise seemed to be lacking dressing, which is odd. Usually she objects that her salads are overdressed. Also there was no egg, and no olives, which makes me wonder if it escaped the kitchen unfinished. She said the tuna was the best part, which since it consisted basically of tuna and leaves is faint praise. My steak was small, but very tender and perfectly cooked. Caroline’s Mahi Mahi was very tasty, too. I’d consider ordering it if we went back. Caroline thought the mashed potatoes were especially good. As usual these days, I passed on dessert, but Caroline had the Creme Brulee. In our opinion, flan should be cooked to firmness but Creme Brulee left soft, almost runny. Not here, so points off for that. Overall, the dining experience was positive. The menu is short, so I don’t know if we’ll go again or not.