Day 6: The Loooooooooooove Boat

I realized today that the word for “pulp” in Spanish is “pulpa,” not “pulpo.” Thus, I’m pretty sure that yesterday I ordered a glass of orange juice “with extra octopus.” Delicious.

Today was tour day, specifically the Outdoor Adventure Tour from Vallarta Adventures. Ziplining! Boating! Rapelling! Getting really wet! What’s not to love? I signed up immediately.

At 8:30 a.m. I caught a taxi to the marine terminal, paid the 20 peso entry tax, and proceeded to have my backpack searched more thoroughly than at any airport I’ve ever been through in Mexico. Apparently there is a bigger dinner cruise hijacking problem than I was aware of (“Meet our demands immediately or we start throwing chicken kiev platters overboard one by one!”).

There was also a large sign warning against the kind of dangerous contraband you cannot bring into the marine terminal, including drugs, guns and Welsh Corgis:

Just before our tour was to begin, a giant (and I mean GIANT) cruise ship pulled into the harbor. I guess I knew intellectually that cruise ships were big, but actually watching one pull into a tiny harbor is awe-inspiring. Somehow they managed to nose into the harbor (that’s the “bow,” for those who are nautically inclined), rotate 90 degrees backwards so the rear of the ship (nautical term: “the butt”) was facing us, and slide sideways up agains the dock. Then Julie did a line of coke and Isaac flirted with Melba Moore.

We were met by the first of an estimated 7,400 tour guides assisting us on today’s tour. Vallarta Adventures is very well staffed and efficient. The guide told us we were going to have the best tour in Mexico and encouraged us to go around and say hi to people we didn’t know. I introduced myself to various other people on the tour, which included:

  • Three women and a man from Holland, who spoke loud Dutch and smoked cigarettes before the tour began.
  • A family of four from Canada, including two teen daughters who had the “slightly-put-out-by-being-in-Mexico-instead-of-home-in-Calgary-at-the-mall” look.
  • Another couple from Canada.
  • Yet another couple from Canada.
  • Various American couples.
  • Two college girls from Loyola.

As is my custom on boat tours, I made a quick survey of the group to decide who I would eat first if we ended up stranded on a deserted island. I decided not to make a firm call right away.

We all piled into an inflatable speedboat with twin 200 horsepower engines and off we went. The boat flew across the ocean, offering a nice view of Puerto Vallarta. After about half an hour we arrived at the tiny village of Boca de Tomatlán (Spanish translation: “Nyah nyah, tomato face!”), a place that features about three houses and two pelicans. One of the Canadian girls pointed at a pelican and said “Look, a stork!”

We piled off the boat and our next welcoming guide informed us that his name was “Tomás Cruzero” (get it?) and he did a little comedy routine before dividing us into Team Awesome and Team Great and piling us into trucks for the next leg of our journey. I was on Team Great, along with the Dutch, the college girls, two of the less-annoying Canadians (by a hair) and a doughy couple from Ohio.

The trucks are converted 1968 military 4×4 Unimogs, with a raised chassis and what they describe as “extra cushioning.” They enjoy the smooth ride you’d expect of, say, a Volkswagen tumbling down an embankment, with the kind of quiet, emissions-free operation you’d expect from a 747 crashing into Chernobyl. Needless to say, the 30 minute ride up to base camp was nothing short of terrifying, especially once the Unimog turned onto a narrow dirt road that could only charitably be described as “a road.”

Reaching base camp, we stowed all of our personal belongings in a locker and were fitted with climbing harnesses and helmets. A team of six tour guides had us in very good hands, cracking jokes such as “The helmets aren’t for you — they’re to protect the trees,” and “Your harness is a Mexican diaper.” Five of the tour guides were Mexican, and one was from Canada. They all spoke English, and apparently I was a huge outlier by actually speaking Spanish. They asked me where I was from and I said “Portland, Octopus.”

For the first leg of our adventure, we walked over to the mule area (there is probably a name for a mule area) and were given quick instructions on how to operate a mule. I mounted my mule (so to speak) and away we went. It had approximately 399-1/2 fewer horsepowers than the boat that had delivered us to Boca de Tomatlán, but it gamely scampered up the trail thanks to (or more likely, despite) my expert mulemanship. One of the college girls was in front of me, but her mule-riding skills were clearly inferior to mine and eventually I passed her and led the mule train up the hill. I can report that my mule was sure-footed, even-tempered, able-bodied and did not throw me to my death into a ravine. Those are really all the qualities I am looking for in a mule.

After 30 minutes we reached the end of the mule trail, and I bid my mule a fond farewell. It was time for ziplining. I am not super-awesome with heights, but when I saw how much redundant safety equipment was being used, I decided to temporarily suspend my terror. The first zip line was 800 feet, and I’m proud to say that I did not scream like Dakota Fanning, or suffer the ultimate fail of not making it to the end of the zip line.

The key to ziplining is to keep one hand gently on the rope, which you use to prevent yourself from spinning around (unless you’re into such things). You can also use this hand to brake by pulling down on the rope, but brake too soon before the finish and you end up coming to a halt and having to suffer the embarrassment of hauling yourself hand-over-hand backwards to the finish platform. One of the college girls experienced zipline fail twice, as did Dutch Mom.

With six tour guides in our party, several would go ahead and several would stay behind to make sure that everyone got through all of the ziplines. They were very efficient, and at certain points in the tour they would just clip you into something while you were standing around to ensure that you didn’t misstep and take the seven second vertical tour of the canyon.

After four or five ziplines, it was time for the rapelling portion of the adventure. Following a quick demonstration, we stepped up one at a time to rappel down a large waterfall. It was wet, slippery and challenging. Being cat-like in my dislike for getting wet, I managed to only get soaked up to the knees in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

Any lingering thoughts of staying dry went out the window, however, because the next zipline was a steep and direct plunge directly into a natural pool in the river. No steering. No braking, just a near free-fall into three feet of water. We all ended up completely submerged on the landing, and I got water up my nose, in my ears, and probably in other places. I am not a good swimmer, or even a good cannonballer.

We then had a free-fall rappel (straight down off a platform), a few rope bridges to cross, and then a final zipline and a short hike through the river back to base camp.

Back at the camp I changed into dry clothing, decided not to purchase a photo package showing me making “mule riding and zipline face” and piled back into the Unimog for the ride back down the mountain. On the way, we stopped at a tequila factory for a tequila tasting, in which everybody took shots of five different tequilas and then looted a 7-Eleven and overturned a burning car. No, I made up that last part, but it was enough tequila that if I’d sampled it I would have been rendered deceased. I am not a drinker, so only me and the Canadian teens (“Tastes like stork!”) abstained. The two college girls bought bottles to take home and a serious discussion broke out amongst the Canadians as to how much tequila they could take home without being subject to tax.

The boat ride back to Puerto Vallarta was very bumpy, as the afternoon ocean swells were in full swell, and between that, the mule ride, the Unimog, the Mexican diaper and the wet chafing I have to say that my butt (nautical term: “my stern”) is a little bit sore.

I caught a bus back home from the marine terminal and enjoyed watching the sunset while trying to guess how many days it will take my shoes to dry. I’m guessing “all of them.”

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