Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paradise Lost On Me
By Michael

This is about the only shopping available in Paradise.
We may be headed for Paradise and I ain’t happy.
We are determined to move out of the villa and aboard our boat September 1. Because of the nature of the work left to be done on the boat, we will live in a marina for the months of September and October. After that our life at anchor begins. But the question for the interim is: which marina? There are four primary choices in Banderas Bay:
  • Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta was the only game in town up until a few years ago. It is the old, grand dame of Banderas Bay marinas and closest to the vibrant Mexican life found in the older section of Puerto Vallarta. (Marina Vallarta is where the boat and the villa are today, but we can’t live aboard in the particular slip). Hands down, Marina Vallarta is our first choice because of the walkability and proximity to the bus lines and downtown Puerto Vallarta. There are slips available, but the marina does not have a pool. We really want a pool, especially for the kids’ sake. (In a marina, you cannot just jump off your boat and go for a swim, the water is not clean, and there are the cocodrilos.) We had a couple leads on Marina Vallarta slips that assured pool access (Puerto Iguana and the Hotel Flamingo have slips), but both fell through. We are still exploring other possible pool access, but it isn’t looking good.
  • Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz is at the northern end of Banderas Bay, a forty-five minute bus ride from Puerto Vallarta. As a town, La Cruz has its own charm, including Philo’s Bar and an expected large number of cruisers to settle into the anchorage outside the marina in a few weeks. Marina Riviera Nayarit is also the newest of them all—just completed a couple years ago—but pool access for the girls is a limiting factor here too.
  • Marina Nuevo Vallarta is in Nuevo Vallarta, adjacent to Paradise Village Marina and on the same large, ensconced parcel as everything else Paradise Village, including the golf course and shopping malls. These marinas are between Marina Riviera Nayarit to the north and Marina Vallarta to the south. Marina Nuevo Vallarta has long been a small, run-down backwater marina. For the past year, they have been in the process of displacing boats and reconstructing the place. The amenities do not compare to those of Paradise Village Marina, and because the net cost difference between the two is not great for a two-month stay, Marina Nuevo Vallarta is out of the running.
  • That leaves Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. The place is run by competent staff and includes a small, onsite chandlery. The docks and environs are clean and secure. Living at the marina, we would have access to all of the amenities of the hotel bordering the slips, including four beautiful pools. The problem? Paradise Village offers a feeling of Mexican authenticity on par with the Mexican restaurant we visited in Omaha, Nebraska on our trip here from D.C.
Paradise Village is not how I want to spend my time in Mexico. It is a moneyed sanctuary from the un-zoned, un-planned, rich and lively Mexico I love.
I read a recent post from the crew of Savannah, from the South Pacific. About the ubiquitous McDonalds, they write unabashedly, “Some criticize those of us who eat at the fast food joints because they don't serve the 'local' fare. But we contend that when the lines are full of locals, it's local food.” They make a point. As the world changes, so do cultures. Folks cannot visit the South Pacific and expect to find the islanders living as they did 100, 40, or even 10 years ago.
This is not Paradise, this is walking the streets of
Puerto Vallarta with my girls.
I’m the first to admit I have a romanticized notion of Mexico. But it is not unrealistic. I’m not pining for a diorama-esque streetscape of starving dogs, taco stands, and sitting figures shrouded in oversized sombreros.
No, I want Mexico as she is. And I want to discover what that is today. I’m already struck by the differences from our pervious times here, most recently 14 years ago. Despite the Home Depot, Costco, and Walmart mega stores that moved into town in the past decade, there does not seem to be a shortage of the tiny, open shops that are either specialized or serving as little convenience stores. And the character of those places seems unchanged.
When we went to the Dupont paint store across from the airport in Puerto Vallarta, the young man behind the counter helped us with a level of knowledge that reflected the fact that this was his career. We spent 20 minutes talking with him about the various two- and three-part paint options. We learned how best to test our unknown existing paint for compatibility When we selected a color, he created it by eye, patiently adding the primary pigments until he nailed it. My friend Tim Fitzmorris once told me about the joy he gets from seeing someone do their work well, work that represents knowledge and skill born of pride and dedication. That’s what I saw in the paint store.
These guys are expert at what they do. The guy in the red
shirt is going to re-upholster the settees in our boat.
You can't find their shop in Paradise.
In Mexico, there is still the opportunity to talk and deal directly with the tradesmen, craftsmen, and artisans who do the work. There is no clerk interface. This was the case when I had our engine manifold welded. This was the case at the small electronics store where I found my obscure-sized, 12-volt wire plugs sitting under glass waiting for me. This was the case at the upholstery shop where the guys on the sewing machines are the same ones we’ve dealt with over the past three days over fabric, approach, and labor cost. I imagine these workers enjoy respect in their community for their specialized, needed knowledge.
Of course, these experiences are less common in the U.S. I think I understand the underlying reasons for this, and it is likely to change in Mexico over time, but for now, this is the kind of thing you see daily in Mexico, at the myriad, highly specialized, hole-in-the-wall shops and workshops.
All of this is missing from Paradise Village. In Paradise Village, there is no need for the hundreds of specialized micro-stores and shops and the working class that inhabit them and the supporting businesses that cater to the workers. At Paradise Village, there are working class Mexicans, but they are clerks ready to sell you a $45USD kid’s bathing suit in the mall or take your pizza order at Dominos. There are no tortillarias in Paradise Village, all the tortillas served in the air conditioned restaurants are brought through the gates by trucks each morning.
They sell food in Paradise, but not like this, and at
prices that make a cruiser blush.
I have nothing against exclusivity for the sake of privacy and security, and Paradise Village offers this: a 440-acre sterile compound surrounded by kilometers of barbed-wire-topped concrete walls. Perhaps my biggest problem with Paradise Village is the size of the place. Our villa is no less exclusive, but a 60-second walk out the front door takes us out of the Isla Iguana complex and onto the streets, where buses roar by in clouds of dust and exhaust and will gladly stop and take us anyplace for six pesos. The only means of escape for the Paradise residents is a 10-minute drive off of the compound, either by car or licensed cab. A week long stint in Paradise Village would be easy, like a couple of days in Las Vegas. But two months living on the strip in Las Vegas?
As we look at our options, we may be calling Paradise Village home very soon.

Grandma Linda and the girls the night before she flew home.
They are here on the malecon that surrounds Marina Vallarta.
From their smiles, you can see that they aren't in Paradise.


  1. Oh come on Michael, Paradise isn't that bad. It definitely isn't the Mexico we love either but it serves it purpose to get boat work done and liveaboard comfortably for a few months. And there is bus service as well - every 15 minutes. You will need to take two buses to get downtown; one to Walmart and then another to El Centro. I have a feeling we will be neighbors soon. :)
    Ali and Pat

  2. Stevensville isn't paradise either, but it is the best we can do now. Maybe this is just one more compromise in a long list or life of them. In 2 years you will hardly remember. Glad we found the blog again. Love Gene Robbie Alison

  3. Michael--another factor to think about is community. In the past two years there were more families in La Cruz than anywhere else and play dates and kids club activities kept everyone happy(there is a great easy beach there and we did have access to the pool last year btw). Having visited or stayed at all the options--La Cruz seems to offer more resources and the easy walk to town (with farmer's markets, regular festivals and nice locals folks made it easy.) The bus ride into PV can be a PITA but the bus in and out of Paradise can also be crazy making.


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