Costalegre de Mexico

Story & photos Al Maclachlan

Come wilderness travelling, swim in warm emerald sea water, and soak up much needed sun rays on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where Mariarchies play while you dine on exotic seafood, watching the sun go down surrounded by happy people, in the wonderful state of Jalisco.


I've usually gone to the Caribbean side of Mexico, which was generally less commercial. But for this latest trip I went south of Puerta Vallarta, along the Costalegre (Happy Coast), hooked up with some friends, and after some partying and sampling superb seafood at restaurants/bars where the cervezas were ten pesos, and the live music had rhythm and swing, we managed some semi-wilderness travels. There wasn't much time to go into jungles, or kayak to remote islands, but in the small Pacific towns nature is on the outskirts of the dusty sandy streets, where pelicans, herons, vultures, hawks, iguanas and crocodiles can be seen on relatively short hikes.


I will be writing more articles about specific adventures in the state of Jalisco, but this is an introduction to various places and activities to pursue once you're down there, rested up and ready to explore. It's also a guide for places to avoid, which is mainly the large cities. I made the stupid mistake of going through Mexico City to avoid having to change planes in the US and their paranoid customs officials. Customs in Mexico City are far worse than in Canada, and perhaps the US. I don't recommend Mexicana Air.


So, take a direct flight to the beautiful and relaxed city of Puerto Vallarta, with some of most fascinating architecture I've seen anywhere, and south from there by bus. The Mexicans have us all beat with their wonderful buses - well if you take the relatively cheap first-class ones, which I recommend for longer journeys. The local ones are great for local trips.


There are scores of little pueblos and villages from Puerto Vallarta to Melaque, which basically covers the ocean boundaries of Jalisco. The interior villages are usually agricultural centres, with little to offer tourists, although some of them may be useful as base camps for interior treks. A couple of them also looked like the sort of places you see in spaghetti westerns, with policia riding shotgun (carrying fully automatic rifles) in pick-up trucks. I preferred the villages by the ocean, el Costalegre, which offered reasonable accommodation near, or on, the beaches, but were not the typical tourist places encountered elsewhere. With the exception of a few Canadians and fewer Americans they catered mostly to Mexicans.


As much as for the wildlife, the ocean vistas and nature treks, I travel to places for the food and music. I don't much like any sort of fast food, including tacos, but the seafood especially, with the special sauces, spice and herbs, are fantastico and usually about $100 pesos or less. Latin music, of course, has that swing and moods that can make you cry, or laugh, or do both at once, while trying to dance to the bolero ranchero, or any number of the Mexican music forms. And, of course Mariachi music originated in Jalisco.



As to daytime activities, briefly, I'll list some of the things that would attract wilderness travellers.


* Adventure tours to see sea turtles, dolphins, whales, birds and other animals are available in many places in Jalisco.


* The active volcano in Colima, also called Volcán de Fuego, lies primarily in Jalisco state and has erupted over 40 times since records were kept in 1576. Contact Ray y Eva's Tours
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* Bird watching. The state of Jalisco has a diversity of habitats, including coastal lagoons, and mangrove swamps. There are up to 355 different bird species such as the famous Military Macaw, the Orange fronted Parakeet, the Citreoline Trogons, Magpie Jays, Jacanas, Herons & Egrets.


* Tenacatita has gorgeous beaches, camping and snorkelling in coral reefs. A really fun day-trip.


* Bahia de Navidad (Bay of Navidad) has the two villages of Melaque and Barra de Navidad where you can go surfing, take marine nature tours, go fishing etc. But what I found most fascinating is the lagoon which separates the two villages, which has iguanas, crocodiles, and many birds species.


* La Manzanilla is a lovely town as long as you don't mind crocodiles. As in many coastal places there are large steel fences around the towns to keep the crocs fenced in the swamps and lagoons, and out of the towns.



If you haven't been to Mexico before I should stress that Mexicans are nothing like the stereotypes created by American media. They are generally far more civilized than Americans and Canadians. They have better manners, their work is often superior, whether it is cooking, architecture, craft-work or dentistry, and their culture is more interesting, more passionate, and diverse than the North American mono-culture many have adopted north of the Rio Grande. They are also a freer country in many ways.


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