BUCERIAS, Mexico - Midwesterners with time and money to escape the cold winters have several choices. Florida is the
No. 1 warm spot for folks from Ohio and Michigan. Arizona also promises warm winter months, and there is always Hawaii, which will forever be my favorite at any time of the year.
But now that I have visited Mexico, it has earned a high rating for several reasons. First and foremost is the 80-degree daily temperature here in northwest Mexico. At night it drops to 60 or lower for perfect sleeping. The price is also a big reason for the large number of Americans and Canadians who vacation here in January, February, and March. The rent for a one-bedroom oceanfront condo is $500 a week, or $1,700 a month, considerably less than similar lodging in Florida. Groceries and restaurant meals are reasonably priced.
Bucerias, a city of 5,000 people, is located on Bandaras Bay, said to be the second-largest bay in the world. It is ringed by hotels and condo developments and is best known for Puerto Vallarta, a bustling seaport and popular vacation destination with an airport accommodating major airlines.
The view from the condo balcony over manicured grounds, a swimming pool, and beyond to the beach is spectacular. I had to tear myself away from the beach to come in this afternoon to write this column, and even as I type the suntan lotion-coated fingers are slipping on the keys.
Not everything is paradise on a Mexican holiday. We prefer to buy five-gallon jugs of water rather than drink from the tap. Credit cards are not accepted here, but they are in larger cities. You have to learn how to use pesos.
The language is a major barrier. English-speaking tourists fail to learn enough words to blend in. Somehow we expect everyone in the world to understand us. The locals are friendly and try to communicate, but their English is as limited as our Spanish, and so often we are at a standstill.
The day I walked into a beauty salon to have my hair styled is an example. I said "good morning." The young girl said "Hola," the standard greeting for hello, and something else I couldn't understand. I indicated what I wanted and she led me to the shampoo bowl. The water was ice cold. I jumped up, saying "hot, hot." But there was no hot; only cold. Perhaps that is what she was explaining when I walked in. So what do you do? That's right. Enjoy a not-so-relaxing shampoo.
Taxis and rental cars are available, but for fitness and to save money, walking gets us everywhere except to grocery stores. The cost for a bus is 12 pesos, or $1. Vendors at each bus stop sell food, and they sometimes jump on the bus hoping to catch a customer before the bus continues. The city buses are correctly called a Mexican massage. Old vehicles on rough roads promise a real workout.
"Watch your step. Always look down," a friend advised. Indeed, that is the only way to walk on the cobblestone streets and irregular sidewalks. Thank goodness for the thick-soled walking shoes that were packed at the last minute.
The local color paints its own picture on Lazard Cardenas, the main thoroughfare of the city. The people, the homes, the shops, the restaurants, and yes, the cobblestones there are Mexico in a capsule, as I hoped it would be.
If it's a Sunday, the walk is to Mass at Our Lady of Peace Church, where the Rev. James Say of Oak Harbor, Ohio, concelebrates Mass for English-speaking people during his stay in Bucerias.
After a couple of days you get used to horseback riders sauntering through town. Visitors patronize the Internet business to keep in touch via e-mail. A tea room adds a touch of class, and just down the street a peppy woman who makes jewelry to order in an hour beckons, "Come in, I have mucho things you don't need."
The flea market is an experience. More than 100 vendors are aggressive marketers who smile as they promote the sale of jewelry, rugs, pottery, and purses in the blazing sun. Bartering not only is expected, but works if you are as quick-thinking as the vendor. But there is no reason to be disappointed if you don't get what you want at the market. There is always another chance at the beach. Vendors are everywhere, and that includes 6-year-old children who are sent out to sell to the tourists. Their sweet faces and shining eyes are irresistible. That explains my two ankle bracelets and more gum than I will ever chew.
Dogs, in all sizes, colors, and of mixed breeds run loose in the streets. They of course got my attention immediately. It crossed my mind to try to bring home the small black dog that was often at the beach waiting to be petted as he watched the high surf. Then good sense overcame me and I realized he is a lucky dog to be living in such a beautiful place. There is no surf at Posey Lake.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.