It’s funny how the nature of a place can change drastically based solely on what’s happening in your own life rather than anything about the place itself. I have been coming to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for eight years and over that period my perception of this Pacific resort has changed from Paradise to Land of Disappointment to something in between.
The first winter I came here I really didn’t want to come at all. I had booked a hotel room by myself based on something I had heard about Puerto Vallarta becoming the newest gay hot spot. I planned my trip months ahead solely because I was dreading another endless cold winter in Rehoboth Beach. But by the time April arrived, spring was already in the air and I didn’t relish going by myself to a place where I didn’t know anybody.
Perhaps it was inevitable that with such low expectations I had a fantastic time. Under the mentorship of a seasoned traveler and gregarious new friend from Alaska, I discovered that young men in Mexico are very open to relationships with older Americans. There was nothing sordid or contractual about it, provided you offered “taxi fare” for your young companion to get home. So I met Carlos #1 and spent most of that week in a romantic haze. Carlos #1 must have lived far out in the suburbs because his taxi fare was 400 pesos. As it happened, he stayed in my hotel room with me and never needed to use his accumulating transportation fund.
The following year I met Carlos #2. We saw each other several times over the next two years. He never had any money but he never wanted taxi fare either. For my 59th birthday, as a present to myself, I took him to La Perla, a fabulous gay boutique bed and breakfast in Guadalajara. It was all very romantic. But I grew weary of Carlos #2 when he persisted in seeking my aide in getting him (illegally) into the United States.
And then came Luis. My two year on-again-off-again partnership with Luis included living together in Puerto Vallarta, New York (legally), and Mexico City. Just prior to breaking up, I had been seriously considering buying a condo in Mexico where we could live happily ever after. For two years I had voluntarily suspended disbelief and had convinced myself that two people, 30 years different in age, one with a secure, if not large, retirement income while the other was yet to hold a job for more than a few months, could have a stable and loving relationship.
When the illusion shattered, it shattered hard. Today as I walk through Vallarta, it does not shine with romantic possibilities but rather reflects a time past in my life. The places I pass by are like holiday snapshots from a long ago vacation. The memories become dimmer, but so does the pain. I no longer see everything in relation to Luis. This is not the spot where we first met or the café where we always had drinks with friends. I now see everything here as it really is.
This place that ex-pats and regular visitors call paradise is nothing more than a Mexican fishing village that has grown rapidly and wildly beyond anything that can sustain itself. It is polluted, noisy, the infrastructure is crumbling, the tourists are misbehaved and dressed inappropriately, time share vendors are aggressive to the point of hostility, nobody speaks Spanish and nobody sees the abject poverty that lurks just beyond the edges of the tourist zone.
As I sit on the shaded patio of my favorite Vallarta condo, a refreshing breeze comes up the hill from the Pacific Ocean. This condo that should have so many memories is now just a place I am staying, a pleasant place to be sure, to enjoy some fine weather as I wait for spring to arrive in New York. I’m looking forward to going home.