We don't think of ourselves as the 'tourist' types. In fact we are horrified by the vision of ourselves as beer bellied loud sunburnt vacationers; those packaged tour junkies lounging by the resort pools sipping drinks embellished with skewers of fruit and paper umbrellas reading mass market paperback novels.
Instead we presume ourselves to be cool bohemian travelers, a cut above the common masses. We want adventure and unexpected discovery, to break bread (or tortillas) with the locals.
And yet, here in Puerto Vallarta, this has proved to be virtually impossible. What can we say? Our skin is white, we wear gaudy beach outfits, and even though we speak Spanish we might as well wear targets on our backs saying 'Look at me, I'm clueless! Sell me something, please!'
'Come look at my yunk! says a man thrusting his open case of questionable silver in our faces.
'The real McCoy, amigo!' Silver! Opals! Mezcal!
And so we buy the chachkes inlaid with abalone shells, the tee shirts, the straw hats. Our brains turn to mush from the sun and too many kahula and tequilas, and we know that if we're not careful we just may find ourselves shamelessly acting like silly kids at a Summer camp, paying good money for the opportunity to join several hundred other nature loving Norte Americanos getting our pictures taken being kissed by captured dolphins in an aquatic petting zoo.
'Hola amigo! Where you from? Unitestates? Canada?' 'I have good deal for you, amigo! Special today, only for you. Come look!'
Brochures of leaping whales and waterfalls abound, and luxurious low priced timeshare condos and Las Vegas type glitzy stage shows with 'dos por uno' drinks can all be yours with the swipe of a credit card. 'Come on, gringo, you know you want it!' After all, where else can you get to scuba dive without being certified for only thirty bucks, or dangle your legs high in the sky from a tattered harness with a patched parachute attached to a sputtering motorboat?
We say no, gracias, to the hawkers on the beach. No, no!
Can't you see, amigo, that we are not like THEM?
And then, suddenly, after several days of sun we say 'what the hell', and find ourselves on a shabby catamaran called Geronimo on our way to the Marietta Islands with fourteen passengers and five crew members, where the promise of tropical dive adventures, whale sightings and an all you can drink open bar awaits.
On the way to the islands we spot distant plumes of white and head off towards them, and when the dark curve of the humpbacks surface we are ready with our cameras and our cries of awe, our shaky sea legs pink from too much sun. 'One more time!' Shouts the boat's captain, a young skinny boy of about fourteen with one hand on the wheel and another around a can of Squirt. We strain for more, holding our breaths, the pause of anticipation almost palpable. And then, as if on cue, the whales surface again, spewing white spray into the air, followed by the enormous glistening fan of a tail which poises for an instant, dripping seawater before it disappears beneath the surface of the dark blue green froth. After cries of glee and clicks of the shutters we all stand silently for a sacred moment, until the engine cranks and the CD resumes its disco beat and we are off again.
Finally we arrive at the barren rock of the Marieta Islands, where seagulls pelicans and the rare blue-footed boobys chuckle from the rocks at our approach and settle in for the day's entertainment, in what must surely be a welcome break from the tedious routine of everyday life in a bird sanctuary.
'This is SO worth it!' We say as we don our rented snorkel gear and waddle awkwardly into the water like a flock of crippled ducklings in our neon yellow flippers. Mark and I manage to detach ourselves from the clutch of bodies and diesel fumes to find our own way among the rocks and crevices, where schools of sardines and psychedelic fish appear from the murky depths .We follow tunnels leading to tiny beaches worthy of a castaway scene in a B movie, returning just as a huge boat pulls in to the cove carrying about 50 young tourists, howling and bumping to a grinding disco beat as they plunge into the water. Unlike our boat, in which the crew has given us strict orders not to drink until after diving, these people have obviously been chugging tequilas from the moment they left the marina two hours ago.
We turn the cove over to them and reboard the Geronimo, where a small buffet lunch awaits, as well as the long awaited open bar. Several watery margaritas and pina coladas later and we begin to howl and squeal, holding our plastic cups high as we wiggle our hips and do the unthinkable.
Shamelessly, we dance the Macarena.
The crew leads us on, and we let them. Weary, drunk and giddy with the adventures of the day, we succumb to all of it. Who cares if we are old and sunburnt and look ridiculous bulging out of our bathing suits? We are gringo tourists on vacation, after all, doing only what is expected of us.
Every once in a while someone points excitedly toward the horizon or alongside the boat as a pod of whales or dolphins raise their tales in farewell, (or possibly good riddance), and heave their enormous majestic bodies out of the water as the Geronimo takes us back to the safety of the marina and solid predictable earth, where the largest animal you are likely to run into is a Texan. Which isn't much to get excited about or make you reach for your camera, let alone inspire you to dance the Macarena.
-posted by Susan