If we had stayed in California, I would have been wiped out financially in about two years. Instead, I came to Puerto Vallarta with my Mexican husband, Arturo, and we are financially sound, living happily and very well on $200 a week USD.
Our last electric bill was 180 pesos, about $15 USD — for two months. Phone bill for a landline plus Interent access runs about 400 pesos a month. The water bill is always low, so utilities are reasonable. You buy gas for cooking and AC by the tank and it’s not expensive. Medical care is superior and very affordable. At our favorite restaurant, we buy one order with two plates for 109 pesos. It takes about 13 pesos to make a dollar right now. Waterfront, great service, wonderful food, Mariachis. Bargains abound in all areas. Swapmeets have yielded us treasures we could never have afforded before.
I had bought a time-share here in 1980 and had had it for 18 years. Two weeks every September at a beautiful resort hotel on the beach south of town. My three sons and I and our friends enjoyed it immensely. September is the end of the hot and humid summer and features deafening thunder, blinding lightning, torrential downpours and unforgettable sunsets. It ushers in the mild and comfortable winter.
When the time came for Arturo and me to find a place to build our nest, Puerto Vallarta was all I knew. Arturo is a big-city man from Mexico City Federal District and was skeptical at first, but Puerto Vallarta’s gracious people have won him over. Having lived in Newport Beach California for many years, I had no desire to live inland, and Mexico City is just too much for me. So Puerto Vallarta it is. Some things have changed, but much has remained charming and interesting.
Our first house was a rental and included a relic from the Stone Age: a concrete block consisting of a long narrow sink on the right with no drain. A concrete washboard slanting toward a drain drains most, but not all the water. No washing machine. You are supposed to put you clothes on the washboard and splash water from the right trough on them, no matter what was in the water. Then suds the clothes and scrub them. Rinse with trough-water, wring out by hand and hang up on the clothes-string to dry. When I asked about hot water, the man said, “Well, yeah I guess, but what would you do with it?” He was serious.
That was a comparatively new home. Two-story, three-bedroom in a cookie-cutter condo tract. The buildings looked like mircats. Our next apartment was 10 by 15 feet and we lived in each other’s pockets. It was across the street from a huge sports complex and park. The softball games last an hour and go from 6 to midnight. We had to either try to sleep through it or become fans. We became fans and it was fun. We lived next to the best pizza in town and our landlady and her husband are truly fine people. Still friends. And the pizza people too.
The local supermarket had a deal we couldn’t pass up. A new bigger-on-the-outside, smaller-on-the-inside refrigerator with freezer, a six-burner gas stove with oven, a dandy big washing machine and microwave oven. The whole thing for a thousand USD. The problem is that we had no place to put it. W e solved that by renting a house in a barrio. Now we had appliances, but no furniture. Well, a bed of course.
This little charmer was painted pink (I called it pank) inside and out. There was a room we couldn’t identify that we finally used as a closet. The kitchen sink was too revolting to describe. And the bathroom opened directly onto the living room without benefit of door. Well, it had a place for a door; just no door. We hung a shower curtain on a string. Of course no bathtub; among the Mexicans, they are practically unheard-of. They are gringo things and, when in Mexican homes, for show, not use.
By the way, “gringo” is not the pejorative here that it is in other places. Because I am white and light-haired, they call me “huerra,” Blondie. I think it’s kinda cute.
Five months in that cauldron and it was time to move on or check into a sanitarium. The combination of screaming hordes of boys in the streets, all-night heavy metal ragers, upstairs neighbors raised by wolverines and just the grit in general did it.
After touring new tracts of midget-sized new condos at greatly inflated prices, we found our present home. New, three bedrooms, tile floors, shower and service porch, plus a front porch where we now raise beautiful plants. It’s heaven. No closets, bathroom sink too small for adults, doors made of paper composition stuff and a single-sink bachelor-style kitchen and the kitchen and living room as one room.
The two small bedrooms are 8 by 10 feet; the Master Bedroom is 8 by 11. Wow. Arturo’s artwork and hand-made furniture have made it all workable and comfortable.
There is a great deal of free entertainment in Puerto Vallarta, much of it on the Malecon, which is a wide, concrete beach boardwalk on Banderas Bay (Bay of the Flags) with benches, statuary and artists’ displays, the Flyers of Papantla (they fly down up-side down from a pole as high as a ten-story building) and an amphitheater. The Malecon is anchored on one end by the legendary Hotel Rosita and the other by the Naval Museum, a fascinating and elegant museum with the best view in town from the restaurant on the second floor. A “Pirate” party boat shoots off “cannons” in fake fights in the bay at night; in the day-time the bay is busy with jet-skis, banana boats, tour boats, whale-watching boats in season and the huge ocean liners that moor here, full of tourists.
The Harbor accommodates only three of these floating cities at a time and they are majestic. The Marina has many ocean-going vessels and beautiful yachts, with waterfront restaurants and shops. There’s something for everyone here.
Americans and Canadians are very welcome here and have a vocal, varied ex-pat community. Apartments, small houses and condos as well as huge mountain-top villas are home to them. The streets, to the consternation of many, are cobble-stones and the sidewalks are uneven, to say the least. They’re trying to improve these conditions. Restaurants are naturally paramount here and vie for business. Much great food. A stroll through the colorful districts will delight you.
Security is a big issue in Puerto Vallarta as in all of Mexico. As in any big city, thieves target victims and prey on the careless, the wealth-flaunters and the inebriates. Crime statistics vary widely. Many ex-pats live in “glass cages.” That is, they drive big expensive vehicles, wear expensive clothes and jewelry and live in gated communities. They associate with each other and enjoy an enviable lifestyle, but it’s not for us.
We opted for a lovely community somewhat north of “the action.” It is a condo tract and our house is perfect for us. We moved from a Mexican barrio into a Mexican neighborhood. Quiet, respectful, small Mexican families, at the foot of a large cliff with a hilltop ideal for a restaurant some day. Arturo, having been a policeman for many years in Mexico City, is especially safety-conscious whereas my house in Newport Beach had a front door that never quite closed properly and of course never locked. Here we lock up.
My pittance from school retirement and Social Security could not cover the ground rent for our mobile home in Orange County. Here, we thrive on $200 USD a week. Candlelit dinners with romantic music every night, one room — the master bedroom — with air conditioning, a very functional office for our many endeavors and beautiful furniture that we acquired at ridiculously low prices. Craig’s List, Home Depot, Costco, Walmart, etc.
I have no regrets, but surprises are many. Arturo started painting jungle scenes on the walls in the house. Now we teach English and Spanish, he cooks for us, he has become a muralist and we are content. I don’t charge; he handles the money. I married a construction worker in California and have ‘Renaissance Man’ in Puerto Vallarta. Who could have predicted this?