Quite unexpectedly, this must be the fifth or sixth time that Tim and I have been to Puerto Vallarta. Years before arriving here for the first time, this town held a quixotic fascination for me.
One of my favorite childhood winter memories is that of my sister and I, bundled up in our snowsuits, boots, and mittens on freezing Saturday nights and trudging over to watch The Love Boat at Uncle Rich and Aunt Mary’s. Yes you heard me, The Love Boat: nestled into my aunt’s kistchy homemade bean bags, eating big bowlfuls of cheesy Velveeta popcorn, laughing giddily at the antics of Doc, Isaac, Julie McCoy, and Gopher. Puerto Vallarta — their most frequent port of call — was surely the most exotic place on earth. This was the playground of the rich and wordly; this was the place where “important people” went to flaunt their money and engage in “scandalous” trysts; this was where rich, beautiful women went to meet even richer divorcees and fall madly in love in 12 minutes.
Regardless of their motivations, by the end of the hour each character somehow managed to make some crucial, cathartic realization about their lives. Everyone hugged, and kissed, and seemed so connected to each other as they said goodbye to their new best friends — the crew of the ship. This was the way I wanted life to be. These were the sorts of friendships I wanted to have. I wanted to know that connection. So I began a life-long yearning to be in Puerto Vallarta.
Unfortunately, a couple years ago I made the mistake of watching an episode of The Love Boat again. I was saddened to discover such a vacuous plot-line — far short of the memory of the show originally created in my enthusiastic eight-year-old mind. Nevertheless, the real Puerto Vallarta has rarely disappointed me.
We first ended up here by way of a short weekend trip to Whistler, Canada, one fall. There we endured some annoying gay bashing while exiting the elevator of our “romantic” hotel. I have never been big on public displays of affection, so one of the most hurtful aspects of this experience was the fact that we were simply walking beside each other, minding our own business — we were called names simply for being who we are. Right then I determined how important it was for me to vacation in a place and not be called a “faggot” as I walked down the street with with my partner.
Puerto Vallarta is a gem of a city that has all the components of my favorite holiday spots: sun; water; cobble stone streets and other antiquities; amazing food; beautiful, wealthy — and even more beautiful but desperately poor — citizens; amazing public sculpture. But perhaps most important, it is incredibly gay-friendly. Despite the hoards of (relatively) straight, “scary” frat boys and sorority girls, obese midwesterners herding loud discontented children, and obnoxiously drunk sunburnt southerners, (yes I am quite aware of the pejorative stereotypes I have just utilized, but this is a place where they do come to life), Puerto Vallarta is still a paradise destination for gay people.
There is an entire city quarter that caters to us gay folks. The Zona Romantica is the heart — both literal and figurative — of the city. It is the oldest section of Puerto Vallarta, and also the most interesting and exciting. Here you will find the best restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and bars and entertainment that the city has to offer. But this portion of the city is rarely seen by the many tourists who never leave their all-inclusive resorts several miles north.
I no longer watch The Love Boat. Nor do I eat cheesy Velveeta popcorn. And while I complain bitterly about the Midwest (I really do need to make a pilgrimage back to see Aunt Mary and Uncle Rich and other beloved family), I still feel the same way about Puerto Vallarta as the little eight-year-old version of myself. This town is a place where I have experienced incredible rejuvenation, connection, and reconnection. It is one of my favorite places to be.