Voyage to Touristlan

A Virtual Root Trip



Virtual root, but not in the sense of UNIX. I’ve always felt a link with Latin culture, starting with being a High School cholo wannabe (shoutouts to mi barrio, VLH). So as a virtual Chicano, Mexico was a virtual roots trip.  Despite La Migra Mexicana’s signs at the immigration checkpoint telling me I was extraneous (extranjero),  I had that sense of “I belong here…why do I look so different?”



The town is nestled tightly between the sea and costal range.  It’s as far south as Hawaii, and Canopus was way, way up in the sky. The temperature was mid-80s and very humid. 


There were three currency exchanges in the airport all with different rates.  I chose the most expensive one, considering how much I was shortchanged. Ay mi gente, hearts in Aztlan, souls in Brooklyn.


The taxi dispatcher wrote “Stratera” on my routing slip, which seemed odd.  I was jet lagged…but did I seem distractible? Arriving at the hotel, I walked right into the Stratera booth at the annual convention of the Mexican Psychiatric Association. The hotel room had everything but that American fetish object, the clock.  Thought of complaining “Y que debe llegar a ser arecho sin reloj?”, but let it go. I was impressed to be on the 16th floor, especially since the hotel only has 12.  The third floor is the 13th, for luck. Floor inflation, I guess.


On the trip from the airport, the sun was brilliant, the streets were well-tended, we passed Vie de France, Gold’s Gym and Wal-Mart, and everybody spoke Spanish.  It was Costa Mesa with Pemex stations. In fact, it Puerto Vallarta seemed like a liquado de Costa Mesa, La Jolla, Santa Ana and Waikiki. Switching contexts everywhere I looked convinced me I can handle teleportation.



Costa Mesa outside the door…


Waikiki outside the window


It’s a very middle class place, from what I can tell. We tourists were treated like precious Americans (precios Americanos). I’m not sure how the locals afford the town, unless there’s some kind of under-the-table Kamaaina system of discounts.  I saw some housing I wouldn’t want to live in, but I believe I saw no true poverty. About 10% of the people on any given street were tourists (about 1/3 of the tourists were Mexicans). Everyone was relaxed and informal. Had fun joshing around in my limited Spanish, getting laughs from the content and syntax alike.


February is humpback migration season.

It was cool to be able to whale watch from my dinner table.


For example, there’s a restaurant called La Tía  with a huge fresh seafood plate called La Tía. So I asked for La Tía.  The lady, evidently the owner, said “La Tía ? Quiserías me?” (The aunt? You want me?) After a moment’s reflection, I said “¡Claro!” (Of course!) She pointed out “¿Pero sobrino mío, fue el incesto, no?” (But my nephew, that would be incest, right?) Scoring on not, I love it where boat-fresh seafood is plentiful and people understand that when you ask for lemonade, you’re really hoping for limeade.


Claude Debussy wrote a salon piece, The Engulfed Cathedral.

The town has so engulfed the church that you can only see it in bits.

Que lástima.


I’d planned to stock up on drugs while in town.  The price for Lipitor 10mg came to about $2/pill, twice what I’m paying Aetna. I thought there must be a double pricing scheme, but one pharmacist showed me his order book.  However, at one place, there was a $P18.75 sticker on the box, which would be about 10¢ per pill.  Maybe that’s the kamaaina price.


Essay in Vertical Lines

How many can you count in this picture?


The whole trip was an exercise in unmerited grace. I arrived at Dulles just as the plane door was closing.  Somehow I got on board.  At Denver, the plane was overbooked by 5.  Traveling on a free ticket, I was a sitting duck, but didn’t get bumped. I’d chosen the hotel by value without really noticing the location, yet it was a short walk from downtown. No need for taxis. At an ATM, I was so bemused that the machine (at a formal commercial bank) addressed me in informal form that I left my card in the machine. (That is so me, hyperalert to the abstract, oblivious to the concrete. Should have been a professor after all.) A lady chased me down two blocks to hand it back. Later, rock scrambling along a river bed, I fell into the water, landed face first on a rock, and missed breaking two teeth by about ½ inch.


It gave me a real sense of “Man proposes, God disposes”.


The Rio Cuale flows through the middle of town. 


This footbridge showed me what Dr. Maturin felt  trying to walk on the HMS Surprise in heavy seas. Do not attempt this crossing for at least an hour after lunch. The day I left, the headline was “Cadaver in El Rio”.  But it wasn’t me.



Don’t jump!

A Jalisco Chihuahua



Money Consciousness

In the U.S. capitalist dogfights are at the institutional level.  Here they’re street level. After getting ripped off at the money exchange, seeing the double pricing on drugs, encountering the scam at El Nogalito (see link below) and the octal arithmetic incident at Café Maximillian, I got hard. The US is supposed to be all about money, but caveat emptor street capitalism gave me money consciousness like never before.  I began to understand my Chinese friends who have a little voice in their head always whispering “Watch out…you’re being overcharged.” I began to view everyone but the superhelpful concierge as the enemy.


I started leaving tiny tips, every peso looked like a dollar, when in fact it was a dime.  After one taxi ride I didn’t have enough pesos for the tip so I threw in a quarter—almost insulting, I thought.  Then I realized with shame that my stingy tip just about doubled his take for the trip.  Pull up, guëro rico, and get some perspective.  After that I tried to keep in mind the economic scale I was dealing on, and the consciousness of “they need it more than you do”.


Octal Arithmetic

At Café Maximillian, they posted prices for most stuff, but not for a set of sundaes pictured on the wall.  I asked the lady behind the counter for the price, which she seemed unwilling to give, and added one to my order.  The bill was delivered verbally, and somehow the total added up to about 33% more than it would base 10.  However, I had nothing in writing.  So I complemented him on his ability to add in octal, which went right over his head.


Café des Artists

The best restaurant in town had Wolfgang Puck-quality food and prices to match. Tried the pumpkin-shrimp bisque; cold soup of melon, mint and ice cream; roast duck over cactus with ginger lemon sauce. Recommended.



For additional content, see:


·        Artes de Puerto Vallarta

·        El Nogalito

·        Yelapa

·        Wierdness


·        Mi Vida Loca