A Postcard from Mexico for Cinco de Mayo:
Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “fifth of May”) is a celebration held to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, a victory which changed the course of history for both Mexico and America.
It is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico’s Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16. So it is timely that I write about my recent visit to Mexico today.
I was invited to a travel conference, and had to spend a week in the Riviera Nayarit region of Mexico. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it! Not really knowing what to expect, I was eager to go, having seen many movies of Mexican villages and wild stories from revelers at Cancun, West Mexico. What I found was amazing beyond belief, and even having taken pictures, friends still cannot believe it was as good as it was.
The main airport for Riviera Nayarit is at Puerto Vallarta, which borders the South of the Riviera Nayarit region, and is a 10 minute drive. It is an 11 hour direct flight from Gatwick, and as Mexico is only 6 hours behind the UK, you arrive without jet-lag and can make the most of your trip. I landed at around 12am.
The first thing that hits you when you get off the plane is the heat. It is 30 degrees at midday, dropping to 24 degrees at night. I am glad I had packed light clothes and could understand why some of the holiday makers flew out in shorts.
My time was spent with Guillermo Guerrero, a guide from the Riviera Nayarit Tourist Board, who put up with all my requests to stop for a photo in the most awkward of places with a smile and further explanation of what I was looking at. Never rushed, he made the trip memorable and complete.
We drove North for 30 minutes to arrive at the small village of San Fransisco (locals call it San Pancho) The roads we so much better than I had expected, and the lush green of trees and plantations gave the air a fresh, uplifting smell. The village hotel Cielo Rojo was small and friendly, and less than a minute from the beach. Just off the bustling high street, it was exactly what a traveler needed; a good bed, safe environment and close enough to the beach and bars to have fun.
The next couple of days we spent a bit further north, heading towards the town of San Blas. The Riviera Nayarit region is mountainous, with roads going up and down linking the villages together across a scenery of total green.
Stopping at a few towns, the calm pace of life became evident. I never heard a car horn sound or saw anyone moving faster than a walk. Even ‘stray’ dogs (that are all collared and never stray) moved slowly out of the way of our oncoming car.
We visited the small man-made island of Mexcaltitan de Urbe, off the coast of Santiago Ixcuintla, a few hours North of Nuevo Vallarta. Legend has it that it was here the Aztlan of the Aztec made their home, and here where they set out, in 1091, on a pilgrimage that founded Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.
The hotel in San Blas, Garza Canela, was about 2 minutes away from the main square, but was so peaceful and quiet it could have been miles away . The rooms were large, and the hotel pool a perfect blue. As night time fell we wandered out into the town, a lively friendly place, with bars and restaurants sitting side by side with street food hawkers and old men playing cards in the main square.
The morning led to a tour of the docks, still a working fishing port, and a great chance to get some pictures of a sleepy town waking up. Later we jumped on a boat to go Whale Shark watching. Wildlife is very important and there are a number of National Parks in the area, as well as special interest areas for turtles, birds and marine life. As it was the Whale Shark never appeared, but had been seen the day before so we were not disappointed. After all, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
The San Blas region is also known for its birdlife and is a popular location for birdwatchers. The wildlife of the region is supported by a freshwater stream that flows from the mountains out into the sea. This supports the small plankton that the whale shark needs to feed on, and creates a network of mangrove swamps that make up the La Tovara National Park. Hiring a small boat, you get a tour of the winding river, the mangrove growing all around and guiding the waters to the sea.
The water is pure and fresh, supporting the whole life-cycle for the region. Dangle your hands in the water and feel the refreshing cool water. Resist the urge to dive in for a swim however. There are crocodiles.
Two days in San Blas is never enough to sample its delights, but long enough to know that it is as close to a perfect holiday location as possible.
Now there is the journey back down the coast to Nuevo Vallarta for the next few days of exploration. So much more to write about.
Mexico is wider than London to Rome, and longer than Edinburgh to Africa, and you could drop all of Britain into it at least twice. So when you hear of people visiting Cancun or the ‘tourist’ Mexico, they are talking about somewhere thousands of miles away from the amazing paradise of Riviera Nayarit on the East. This really is a chance to see Mexico in a new light.