Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Puerto Vallarta Part 3: On the water and in the air

A gentle surf rolls in from Banderas Bay. Looking north, you can see the new high-rise hotels and condos across the arc of Bahia de Banderas. Like most seaside resorts, the focus of Puerto Vallarta is toward the ocean expanse and the clear blue skies above. I decided to devote this segment of my Puerto Vallarta series to some of the many interesting activities we observed on the water and in the air. Some of these encourage participation and some are spectator sports. All are eye-catching and amusing to the casual stroller along the Malecon.

Sailboat glides gracefully along the curve of the Bahia. I was a little surprised we didn't see more sailboats while we strolled the Malecon. This one was beautiful and silent, like a huge swan moving across the turquoise water of the Bahia. For information about marinas in Puerto Vallarta, click here. Someone once described a pleasure boat as "a hole in the water into which you pour money." For those of us lacking deep pockets, there are less expensive ways of getting around on the water.

A less expensive way to get from point A to B.  The water taxi owner seen above was engaged in preparing his boat for the morning's business. For information about water taxi routes and prices, as well as those for other forms of Puerto Vallarta transportation, click here.

Looking for more than simple transportation? How about a classic "party boat." The three-decker above is one of the larger versions which do half and full-day cruises around the Bahia. Most make one or more stops for snorkeling, or hiking around a remote cove. Most also provide meals, and drinks of various degrees of strength, hence the name. For a selection of the various kinds and prices of party boats, click here.

And then there is the low-cost party boat. A pescador (fisherman) anchored his vessel just off shore, and pelicans immediately took up residence. These feathered squatters keep a close eye on the local fishermen. When a net is hauled in and the catch is dumped in the bottom of the boat, sharp-eyed pelicans can often deftly steal a quick snack. Such minor thefts seem to be treated with good-natured tolerance by the pescadores. Brown pelicans like those above have some unusual characteristics. Because they swallow their food whole, their tiny tongues are only about the circumference of a toothpick, since a larger tongue would get in the way. In addition, they are able to drink seawater, a very unusual adaptation.

The air above the sea also provides opportunities for amusement. A parasailor will be clipped into a harness while the crew member inflates the parachute. A long line is connected to a speedboat which takes off as the parasailor skips a nervous step or two down the beach and is quickly airborne. To get a feel for what this experience is really like, click here for a short video.

The full experience is quite exhilarating and worth doing, at least once. The cost at Puerto Vallarta runs about $35-$40 (USD). The view from several hundred feet up is stunning, with no window or other obstruction between the eye and what is beheld. While I didn't venture up into the air on this trip, I have previously parasailed in Cancun. The only time I really felt a qualm was when, as I dangled under the parachute hundreds of feet in the air, I noticed that the only things connecting me to this whole contraption were a couple of metal clips attaching my harness to the parachute. The technology held, however, and I survived to tell the tale. For more information about a variety of heart-thumping activities available at Puerto Vallarta, click here.

Voladores of Papantla climb to their perch before beginning their ancient performance. A tall pole, 42 meters (138 ft.) high, lined with triangular steps, stands not far from the Los Arcos amphitheater on the Malecon. The pole might easily be mistaken for an unusually tall flag pole, except for the odd square "crows nest" on top. Several times a day, 5 indigenous men from the Vera Cruz community of Papantla climb the pole to the very top, past long dangling yellow ropes attached to each side of the crows nest. What is seen today as a tourist amusement originated 1,500 years ago among the Totonac people as a way to propitiate the gods of water and fertility.

The first Volador up the ladder is a musician. He sits in the middle while beating on a tiny drum suspended from the end of a flute that he plays simultaneously. The other 4 Voladores sit facing him on thin pipes hanging over a lot of empty space. During an ancient drought around 500 AD, a small group of brave young men decided to take action to save their people. Wanting to draw the attention of the fertility god Xipe Totec, among others, they selected a tree in the forest, cut it down and brought it to their village where they trimmed it and raised it erect. They adorned themselves with the feathers of colorful local birds and climbed to the top.

At a signal from their leader, the piper, the Voladores drop over backward and begin to spin. The intent of the young men in ancient times was to imitate the swirling appearance of birds. Unlike the nylon ropes of today, the ancients used vines collected in the lowland jungles of Mexico's Gulf Coast.

As the Voladores whirl, the ropes unwind enabling their gradual descent. This photo provides a sense of just how high the pole stands, and the potential consequences of an accidental slip. However, the Voladores train for this performance from childhood and make few errors.

Safety equipment is minimal. The Volador loops the rope loosely around his middle, and holds himself in place by hooking one foot over the extended rope. There are no complicated harnesses or protective gear like the parasailors wear. It's all in knowing how to do it.

Back safely on the ground, the Voladores pose for a quick photo. Their costumes are full of fringes and tassels and are vividly colored. Each carries the small, multicolored conical hat he wears during a performance. The Voladores perform at night under floodlights as well as several times a day. While they gladly accept donations, there is no charge for spectators.

Dragon kite floats lazily above the beach. Flying kites is another popular activity carried out in the air above the beach. The elaborate dragon kite above swooped and dived with the gusts of the ocean breeze, creating the illusion that it was a living creature. Kites were invented at least 3000 years ago. It is a matter of dispute whether they appeared first in China or among the South Sea Islanders who used them for fishing. The Chinese version was supposedly invented by a general who observed the motions of his hat when it flew off. He devised a set of kites that he flew over his enemy's camp at night. The sound of the wind moaning and singing in the kite strings terrified his opponents. They thought they were being assaulted by evil spirits and fled the field.

This concludes Part 3 of my Puerto Vallarta series. In the next part, I will take a look at some of the charming areas away from the beach. If you could like to comment, you can do so in the Comments section below, or by emailing me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Hi Jim. My husband and I would like to learn more about the area. we have questions. Julie and Dennis

  2. All these PV articles make me nostalgic about my 2009-2010 new years eve vacation. Such a beautiful and colorful place, makes me want to go back. Thanks for these articles :)

  3. I have been to PV but I never saw the Voladores. Fascinating. It challenges my brain to ponder different cultures, and how another human was raised in a life so extraordinarily different to mine.

    In addition to PV, I drove from AZ to Puerto Penasco with my parents, many years ago.

    Other than those two Mexico experiences, I have not been anywhere else in Mexico, and yet, I have always been fascinated with that country and sometimes even contemplated a life there.

    Your blog is immensely interesting to me. I'll be occasionally dropping in to quench my wanderlust. :-)


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim