Two events happened this week that inspired me to write this week’s column about the opportunities wasted by many living in Puerto Vallarta, but I will start with my own wasted experiences.
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I moved to Puerto Vallarta nearly a decade ago. I relocated here without any prior visits and I had never even been to Mexico. My Spanish was limited to hola, adios, sí, and burrito. Other than that I switched to Spanglish which is simply adding the letter “O” to every word. Youo understando.
I found an apartment on craigslist before taking the drive to Puerto Vallarta. When I arrived I was pleased with my cute apartment in a traditional Mexican neighborhood, I was actually excited, everything was new and different. The roads were dirt and the air was dusty. Street dogs roamed around and the sound of Spanish echoed from outside the houses, or I assumed it was Spanish, it could have been German and I wouldn’t have known. I was certainly in a traditional Mexican neighborhood on the other side of the tunnel.
Living outside of the tunnel is like living in an entirely different world compared to the inner circle. Spending many years in Atlanta we have highway 285 which is a highway that creates a complete circle around the parameter of the city. Those of us who lived inside that circle never left the inside. Going outside of the circle meant you would be among the rednecks and we didn’t want to be rubbing elbows with those people.
When I first arrived in Puerto Vallarta my foreign landlady recommended I take the bus into the Romantic Zone just on the other side of the tunnel, so off I went. When I arrived on the other side of this tunnel, only like a black hole sucking you into another galaxy, I realized I was living outside of the 285 parameter that separated the cool people from the rednecks.
Inside this other world everyone spoke English and there were restaurants with table clothes. Italian, French, Sushi, Chinese, Tai, the choices were endless, unlike the other side of the tunnel where you had Mexican in a small restaurant located in someone’s living room or Mexican from the cart on the side of the street. I didn’t care, at that moment I knew that I needed to start planning my move to inside the foreigner comfort zone known as the Romantic Zone.
It didn’t take long before I found myself living one block from the beach with ocean views off my balcony and the echoing of birds and English filling the air, awwww Puerto Vallarta, USA was the place to be.
For years I lived and worked in what had become known to me as Vallarta, USA and I was content with living the American life in Mexico, even though when I had planned on my move I was excited about living a different life than that of an American. I guess getting out of our comfort zone isn’t as easy as it seems in our minds.
After several years I grew very bored in Puerto Vallarta, my self-diagnosed ADD needed different stimulation than what life inside the foreign safety zone offered me, so I moved to Guadalajara. In my heart I am a city boy, but my ADD always calls me back to the small town once I am bored again.
It wasn’t until I moved to GDL that it became obvious to me that I wasted my life over the past six years in Vallarta, USA. Here I was still speaking Spanglish and not really understanding the Mexican people or the culture. I had grown accustomed to Mexico accommodating my culture, not the other way around. GDL was a rude awaking that later became a welcomed experience when I relocated to Puerto Vallarta with Vallarta Daily news.
This time I committed to not wasting my experience by living in my comfort zone. No more nightly meals along Olas Altas, no more English in my social settings, no more Walmart, Costco, OXXO, Starbucks, or laundry services. I had learned to live without these things and I wasn’t about to become addicted to the American way of life again. I moved to Mexico for a reason, it wasn’t just for the beach, I could have chosen better beaches if that was my goal.
Now my life is very different from the first six years I spent in Mexico, and I am a better person for stepping out of my comfort zone.
Every Sunday is my big cooking day and the day I make sure I have the Mexican essentials in the kitchen. This consists of boiling a whole chicken with spices to create a chicken broth that serves as the base for making rice, soups, and sauces during the week. The chicken meat is pulled off the bone and used for enchiladas, soups, mole, and chilaquiles. I make my sauces and salsas for the week. I double my usage of my red chili sauce for my chilaquiles and enchiladas to save time with meal planning through the week. I grill and chop my Asada for the week to use for tacos and quesadillas. My refrigerator looks like a Mexican mother lives here, which is probably why my Mexican friends gather every Sunday at my house.
I only venture into the tunnel zone for business, it’s not that I don’t enjoy what the Romantic Zone offers, it’s just that for me it isn’t the life I moved to Mexico to experience. For six years I forgot my purpose and I could easily forget again, so I don’t risk getting caught up in that American lifestyle.
The two events that made me realize how life was in the tunnel world first began with a question on Vallarta Daily with someone wanting to know what happened to the food vendors from the co-op market at Paradise Community Center after it had closed. The person mentioned they wanted to find a new place for the hot food like the food from the market. I suggested the small food court at the Zapata Market 6 blocks from Olas Altas, it really is the only real street market in Old Town, even the weekend Old Town Farmers Market is less of a market and more of a bake sale. The person responded that the Zapata Market was too far. Oh how I remember using those excused too, but for me it really meant that no one there speaks English. Walking six blocks to happy hour is nothing.
The other event was the cancellation of Spanish classes by my business partner who had been trying to start classes for foreigners over the past three months. He required a minimum of ten students and starting off he received over 30 registrations, but quickly received dropouts of over 25 students before classes started.
He was confused why so many foreigners would register to learn Spanish but then just decide to not take the class, he wondered if they decided to go with another language school or teacher. I told him the answer was simple, foreigners always say they want to learn the language because in our fantasy we do want to live a different lifestyle, but in the end Vallarta, USA isn’t an easy place to leave. I am one of those people so it’s not judgmental, it’s a reality of how easy Puerto Vallarta makes it for us to live within our comfort zones.
I would like to make a challenge this year to my expat friends and readers living in Mexico, or even simply visiting, try to choose one thing outside of your comfort zone to embrace in the Mexican culture this year. Maybe commit to finally learning the language, I lived here for six years without an interest and now I am grateful to have learned and still learning. Maybe give up your routine foreign owned restaurant and choose a small restaurant where a grandmother is cooking her family recipes and serving you the $50 pesos plate special. Maybe even commit to seeing more movies in Spanish and even Mexican made films, even if you don’t understand the language. Do something this year to remind yourself why you moved to Mexico out of all the places in the world to choose. Don’t get lost in Vallarta, USA and waste this experience that very few people will ever have in life.
It’s a new year and it means nothing to start a new year if our goal is to do the same things again. Join me in taking baby steps in discovering this amazing place and leaving our comfort zone from time to time, our lives will be enriched.
These are opinions based on my own experiences.