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The Complete “Little Big Sur” Users  Guide

What is “Little Big Sur”

Little Big Sur is a 1500 sq ft palapa on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. This view is toward the front door and looking at the back patio, which faces the mountains. The ocean is on the other side.

“Little Big Sur” (LBS) is our palapa in the jungle about two hours south of Puerto Vallarta in a village called Los Chonchos.   It is only accessible by water taxi from a beach town called Boca de Tomatlan (about 45 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta).   LBS is totally off the grid, but has electricity, full kitchen, full bathroom and enough room to sleep anywhere from 2-8 people.

You will be visiting a place of paradoxes.  LBS is miles and miles away from anything, yet you’ll be able to see civilization pass you by each day and night.  You’ll be living OUTSIDE, affected directly by the weather, insects, animals, ocean, and everything that crawls around; but you’ll have ice, electricity, indoor plumbing, and your Blackberry will work.  After the first 30 minutes on the water taxi towards LBS, you’ll think, “What have I got myself into?” After the first 30 minutes at LBS, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, this could be good.” If you’re like me, you’ll be worrying that there’s nothing to do out here, but you won’t be bored for one minute.

Because LBS is in a remote location, one generally has to cart in food and everyday supplies.  For this reason, we recommend staying the previous night in Puerto Vallarta to do your shopping.

This Users Guide will make more sense once you’re there.  In the meantime, print this for reference.

Getting to Puerto Vallarta and the airport

Many airlines fly to Puerto Vallarta either directly or indirectly.  Indirect flights via Phoenix (the best alternative), Dallas, Guadalajara (a great little airport) or Mexico City (to be avoided if at all possible) are all available.  Prices range widely by season and we recommend booking as far ahead as possible.

PV’s airport is modern and compact.   You’ll go through Immigration first and then walk to baggage claim, pick up your luggage and go through Customs.  All luggage is x-ray’d at customs to see if you’re bringing in undeclared items.  If you are one of the unlucky ones and get a red light at customs, your bags will be searched.  This is not a big deal as we’ve literally brought in tons of stuff to PV and only once paid a 100 peso fine.  If you’re bringing in any new items, we suggest taking them out of their boxes and keep your receipts.

Once past Customs, just walk through the doors and keep going despite a bunch of official looking folks aggressively trying to get your attention.  They are all time share salespeople.  Just ignore them or tell them you live here.  Go out the door on the right and look for a white taxi.

If you’re staying at the Corona Adobe, tell the Taxi driver “Corner of Corona and Miramar in El Centro.”   Ask what the cost is ahead of time (there are no meters on taxis, rather they charge by zone).   Fare is about 230 pesos.

Your Stay in Puerto Vallarta before going to LBS

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The Corona Adobe is located in the hills of El Centro in the oldest section of Puerto Vallarta.

More often than not, you’ll end up staying a night in PV prior to going out to Little Big Sur.   We offer combination packages of our Bed & Wine and Little Big Sur.   When you arrive at Corona Adobe, just ring the bell and you’ll be let in.  You’ll be shown to your room and given a set of keys.

  • Everything you eat and drink needs to be brought in with you, including booze, food, HB&A, water, bug repellant, etc.  LBS has a fully operational kitchen and solar refrigerator.  All kitchen utensils are included.

It’s easy to get around in Puerto Vallarta as there are taxis everywhere.  You will need to walk down the hill from Corona Adobe to get a taxi.   Tell the driver where you want to go and always ask what the cost will be before getting in.

There are many, many things to do in Puerto Vallarta.  Go to http://www.coronaadobe.com website for some ideas.

Getting to Boca de Tomatlan and the water taxi ride to Los Chonchos

The first step is a 45 minute land taxi from Puerto Vallarta to a beach town called Boca de Tomatlan south of PV. Walk down the hill from Corona Adobe and flag a taxi.  Tell them you’re going to Boca (the charge should be around 200 pesos).  Since you’ll probably be carrying a lot of stuff, have the taxi go back up to Corona Adobe to get your things.

then

The taxi loading up at the Boca pier. It can sometimes get crowded. The good news is that the more people there are, the smoother the ride.

The morning taxi leaves at 9:00AM.  You should be in the land taxi on the way to Boca no later than 8:00AM.

Once you arrive in Boca, tell the driver to drop you off at the pier (there’s only one, but its way to the right as you drive down the hill).  There is one water taxi that goes to Los Chonchos and its called “Nayalit II”.   You load onto the taxi at the lower platform at the end of the pier.  You can pay 50 pesos to one of the kids to help you cart your stuff to the end of the pier.

At 9:00AM (or 3:00PM in the afternoon) they start to load the taxi. The taxi drivers will load your belongings.  SIT AS FAR BACK IN THE TAXI AS YOU CAN. for a smoother ride.  This should cost anywhere between 125-150 pesos.  If you have lots of stuff, its nice to tip the drivers 50 pesos each.

The water taxi ride to Chonchos is either one of our favorite or least favorite parts of the trip, depending on how much stuff we have and how rough the Bay is.   The ride hugs the shore going south and the view is spectacular, with the jungle mountains coming right to the water’s edge.   The taxi stops at little villages along the way and you’ll be amazed that people of all ages and health climb in and out of the boat.   This should give you encouragement that you, too, can do it.

Landing on the beach at Los Chonchos

Ass over tea kettle: CB mounts the taxi on the way home. He’s the one in the green shorts.

Unloading the taxi at the Chonchos beach

We unload the taxi from the front.  Which means that once you get close to Chonchos, you’ll crawl toward the bow and get ready to jump off the boat into the surf.

  • Off-loading Hints to Keep in Mind. (1) You will jump/slide off the boat in the surf.  You will get wet.  Everything in your pockets will get wet.   Anything that you value should be put in a Ziploc bag – wallets, passports, watches, etc., etc.  We’ve never lost anything to the water, but we’ve seen it happen.  So, just assume it’s a Normandy-style landing.  (2) Get off the boat as it goes down in the surf, not up.  The driver and his helper will signal you when to jump off.  (3) Don’t carry anything when you jump off, or else you’ll probably lose your balance.  Once in the surf, we’ll begin the process of grabbing stuff off the boat and carrying it up the sand to safety.

Finally, don’t bring a lot of stuff because you’ll end up carrying it up the Mule Highway. No nice suitcases.  Preferred luggage is an old duffel bag that has wheels so you can pull it up the hill, rather than carry it.

then

Artemio and Pamela can be used if you have a lot of stuff.  Cost is about 50 pesos

Once onto the beach, you’ll be greeted by one of the men and taken up to Little Big Sur.  LBS is high on the cliff overlooking the bay, about 1000 yards from the landing beach.  The path to LBS meanders in through the jungle and requires something other than flip flops to negotiate safely.

The weather and what to wear

The official Season in PV is from November-May with the weather usually in the 80’s during the days.  It sometimes gets a bit windy/chilly at night, especially in the Feb-March timeframe.  Since we’re in effect living/sleeping outside, one “dresses” for the weather.

Shorts and a swimsuit, no long pants are required.  I would bring a couple of  tops– t-shirts, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and a fleece jacket/vest for night.  For a couple of days last March, we had on every layer at night as there was a 20+ mph winds etc.

Shoes are the hardest to figure out.  Flip-flops are the shoe of choice in PV and once at LBS.   I use water-shoes for the trip out and back, but bare feet are fine as well.  You’ll probably want to bring a hiking sandal – something that’s open, has straps and is waterproof.   Flip flops don’t work for hiking.

Sleeping Accommodations

There are three beds and two couches.   Only the master bedroom has walls.   There is a Queen size bed upstairs, which is the second best place. There is a King size bed outside on the lower deck.  This has the best view and ocean sounds, but is totally outside.  Bundle up. There is a big couch in the living room.   And another smaller couch on the outside deck that is large enough for sleeping.

The deck, with the outside lounging bed on one end, and the built-in couch on the other.

The deck, with the outside lounging bed on one end, and the built-in couch on the other.

The living room, looking out toward the deck. “Dining room” is on the right. Kitchen is further right out of camera view. The

The living room, looking out toward the deck. “Dining room” is on the right. Kitchen is further right out of camera view. The

Primary outdoor activity at Little Big Sur is laying on the outside bed and watching the whales. We spotted whales every day, with the record being a gaggle of more than 30+ swimming by.

Primary outdoor activity at Little Big Sur is laying on the outside bed and watching the whales. We spotted whales every day, with the record being a gaggle of more than 30+ swimming by.

then

LBS front yard

The Kitchen and Cooking

In most ways, this is your standard kitchen, except it has no Microwave.  And its outside so the wind can blow the flames out of the burners.  And you never, ever leave anything out, as all sorts of animals will have a midnight snack.  Equipment includes oven, range, solar refrigerator, and Mexican Weber.  All the pots and pans you’ll probably need are also there.  If you have a question, ask for it.  There’s full electricity, but we’ve never used a plug-in appliance except for a blender.   We have lots of light.  Drinking the water is fine.

“Open air kitchen”. Like everything else, the kitchen is open air. The most important feature? The solar-powered always-mak’n-ice refrigerator.

“Open air kitchen”. Like everything else, the kitchen is open air. The most important feature? The solar-powered always-mak’n-ice refrigerator.

Daytime Activities

The number one activity is lying around and reading.   We have a lot of books and magazines, but I suggest you bring reading material of your own. You’ll probably hike around some.  You can go swimming and snorkeling (we have snorkeling equipment).  There are kayaks if you’re brave enough.  And, of course, there’s lot’s of fishing, but of a different kind.  The locals use a line and some bait thrown into the surf.  You may not believe me, but you won’t be bored.

Entertainment

There’s no TV, VHS or DVD player. Bring a computer if you want to watch movies and stuff off that.  If you have a favorite DVD, bring it.  Music is like important. We only have a flimsy portable CD player with aux speakers.  If you have an iPod, stuff it and bring it.   There are plenty of wall sockets if some of you want to bring your computer, etc.  BUT, make sure its adequately covered in multiple zip locks in the unlikely case it is dropped in the surf.

A Few Rules

  • Never walk around at night in your bare feet.  Always wear open toe shoes (like flip flops).  While most of the things you might step on are harmless, one – a scorpion – is not.  They like closed-toe shoes, etc.
  • Never put toilet paper down the toilet (this goes for most of Mexico, not just LBS.)  There will be a trash bag for used paper.
  • There is no medical help out here.  We have some basic first aid stuff.  So, if you fall over the railing and break your leg, we’ll have to carry you to the taxi and get you back that way.  I would avoid edges when drinking.
  • We have no personal injury insurance, so give up on that idea as well.

Packing Up and Catching the Water Taxi

Taxis back to the mainland run twice a day (about 11:00 AM and about 5:00PM.) These times can vary by as much as an hour – if you miss the taxi, you’ll have to wait for the next.   Sometimes the taxis don’t/can’t stop because of rough seas.

Packing up LBS is a lot like packing up a boat – everything needs to be put away, out of nature’s reach.  All perishable food should be given to neighbors (unless  someone is coming out in the next few days).

Getting Back to the Airport

It’s possible to catch a plane out the same day you leave LBS, but its difficult. You’ll need a late afternoon flight (from 4:00PM+) so you can catch the water taxi the same day.  Here’s a rough guide for planning purposes:

  • Catch the taxi (11-11:30AM)
  • Water ride (1 hour)
  • Unload, find a taxi/private car at Boca (30 minutes)
  • Taxi ride to Old Town PV (45 minutes)
  • Taxi ride to airport from Old Town (30 minutes)

It’s good to be at the airport at least two hours before your flight.

TALE OF THE TAPE: Four days worth. Only thing lost was Jones’ left shoe

March 2009

Every year a group of my best buddies and I spend a weekend in full party mode in a desert town called Borrego Springs, outside LA.   We call this event “Desert Storm” after the first Gulf War.  Because we’re getting older, but no wiser, we thought why not change the venue and go down to Little Big Sur for the first-ever “Jungle Storm.”   This is the report from the front lines.  I think it is testament to the “fog of war.”

Before Shot: Dinner for four, with some really awful Mexican wine, for $125.

The Pace Picks Up: Night cap at Andale's. Two favorite songs, “My Prison Bitch,” and “Who the Fuck is Alice?” TKF bought the CD.

No caption required: What can you say?

New improved water taxi: They’re building the helicopter pad at Chonchos now.

All this stuff is going in that boat?

Are we there yet? Most often made comment on the way there. “Gee, this really is remote...”

We needed a mule to cart all the booze up the “Mule Highway:” Fortunately, we were met by said mule and his owner, Artemio. Artemio would come in handy several times. Curses are getting louder.

By 11:00AM on Day One, cocktails served. This is a pace that we pretty much kept up the entire time. See first picture.

This is $17 worth 🙂 While walking the aisle of the PV supermarket, I use my Blackberry to make a refreshment order, which was then delivered in Chonchos. No wonder The President won’t give up his Blackberry.

When you start at 11:00, a guy needs a rest

Repeat after me: Typical evening. Lots of talk, laughter and partaking of refreshments. Days are pretty much the same thing.

Our woman, TKF, sizes up his machinery. TKF is by tradition and talent, the Rumble in the Jungle’s official cook. He came fully prepared with recipes, favorite tools, shopping list, etc.,etc. No apron this time, however.

New additions: Fernando, the local carpenter, just delivered these lounges. Notice the beverage tray.

The Hike to Chimo: LJ, TKF and FW hike to the local village, 2 miles away. It’s a pretty tough walk, until one remembers that the workers of Chonchos walk this path to and from work everyday. We manned up.

Chimo is best viewed from afar. Here the boys enter the town using the new super highway.

The Fish Store Needs Better Signage. Since none of us speak Spanish and no one in Chimo speaks English, we had a problem finding the Fish Guy. Alberto has a pretty nice store, but there is no signage out front. Here he weighs our three Red Snapper

Jones was kept busy cleaning

painting

And rolling. No rest for the weary

Teamwork: For the difficult tasks, CB was called in. “Larry, what do you think that is?

Weather changes: For two hours on the last day the weather turned cloudy, windy and overcast. We compensated by keeping warm by.... Well yes, another cocktail:)

Packing out: Going home (down), is a lot easier than going up. Here LJ passes the “road sign” on Mule Highway. LBS is called “C. Nariz” by the locals. Go figure

Ass over tea kettle: CB mounts the taxi on the way home. He’s the one in the green shorts.

First wave safely away. CB and LJ had to leave a day early (don’t ask). Coincidently, that leaves TKF and FW to close up Little Big Sur.

A day later, the Clean Up Crew awaits the taxi as well.

Surprisingly, all made it back from the first Rumble in the Jungle in one piece.  Key learnings:  8 bottles of vodka is cutting it pretty close, we will bring wine from LA, and Keith needs a bigger frying pan.  And an apron.

It started out innocently enough. Twelve guys, four gals, one dog and a mule (unused) trying to unload some stuff on our beach. We pulled together like we knew what we were doing. For a few seconds we were a cohesive team, even thinking we'd made it, until the boat started to slide back into the surf...

November 2008

For those of you who were there, you’ll find this story painful in a “what were we thinking?” kind of way.  For those of you who own a place in Chonchos, you’ll find this story instructive.  For those of you who are neither, consider this just another amusing-from-a-far day in our Mexican “resort.”

A bit of context first. Boats are everything to us Choncho-ites.  Most everything and everyone comes to us via boat.  The twice a day arrival of the water taxi is treated exactly like “the plane, the plane!” from Fantasy Island, as we all run down from our palapas to greet any new arrivals and to help unload their stuff.  We all watch the condition of the water like a New Yorker wakes up in the morning and turns on the weather report.  Rough seas, it’s going to be a bad day.  Calm waters and its a piece of cake.

This past Tuesday John, Chonchos’ El Jefe, arranged to have his boat pick up a load of stuff from PV.  It was a big and assorted load:  four mattresses, a couple of solar panels, batteries, solar controlers, at least two hot water heaters, two new propane tanks, two cases of wine, and a bunch of other “necessities” of island life.  It took the boat crew all morning to load the stuff in PV and the boat didn’t arrive at Chonchos until 1:00PM.  By that time, the calm sea of the morning had turned rougher.

The boat, the boat!! We all gather as the boat approaches.

Strategy Session (not). Ruben (center facing the camera) is Chonchos' foreman. He's telling us the boat will come in and we all need to grab the rope and pull it onto the beach. Someone comments then they don't think this is going to end well. We wonder why the usual method of pulling in, off-loading some things, pulling back out and then repeating isn't used. We don't know what the boat drivers know -- that reverse isn't working so the only way to make this happen is a Normandy-style approach

It's downhill from here. This is the last time things are in control. The boat has just hit the beach and we're all pulling it up the sand embankment. But, the rope is too small and rips through our hands, preventing us from stopping the boat washing back out with the waves. As waves start to push and pull the boat, an audible is called...

Chaos and danger. For a few seconds, Plan B appears to be working. We all sprint to the boat to grab something and haul it up the sand. Things get real heavy, real quick when the heart is going 170 and you're running full steam uphill. But it all soon goes awry, the boat's getting swamped and things are falling into the water. Each crashing wave brings us closer to losing control of the boat. The dangerous part comes in two forms: when we lose control of the boat someone could get caught underneath it as the waves pitch it every which way. But, more omniously, we have to keep our eyes on what's in the water-- a four foot long propane tank hurtling toward you will get your attention real quick. Luckily, I'm the only one who gets hurt when I step on a rusted anchor. We ultimately lose the battle as the boat gets swamped, and then rolls upside down and sinks in the waves near the shore

Shipwrecked? It takes us another 30+ minutes to drag the boat, now unloaded the hard way, to safety all the way up the beach. Afterwards, one of us remembers we have a mule...

Snorkeling anyone? Artemio, wearing goggles in the foreground, and others spend an hour or so diving in the the surf to recover the load. Notice heavy damage to the motor and one of the team rescuing some important cargo, a bottle of white.

I can think of better team-building exercises than trying to off-load a boat in the surf, but a team we became.  Well, perhaps more of a motley crew, but a crew none the less.  Next time we’re going to have a reverse gear, use the mule, and rig up a pulley system. Clearly brawn over brains doesn’t work.


March 2008

We just got back from two weeks in Puerto Vallarta.   We have finally, really transitioned from the construction phase to the living phase in “Little Big Sur.”   Things are starting to settle into a daily routine , although its  not the routine I expected.    When we first bought LBS, I was a little skeptical about whether there would be enough to do beyond a day or two’s worth of time.   Well, be careful what you wish for as I’ve found out.

As planned, KR came down a week early and unpacked the place.  She did, indeed, greet me on the beach with porters.   Then things quickly strayed from The Plan…

Primary outdoor activity at Little Big Sur is laying on the outside bed and watching the whales. We spotted whales every day, with the record being a gaggle of more than 30+ swimming by.

January 2008

2008 marks the beginning of a new phase in Little Big Sur’s life, namely shifting from building it to using it! After a fist full of “mananas,” we’ve now spent two holidays moving into our little palapa. Little Big Sur is 90% done, missing “only” the furniture, full electricity, and assorted finishing touches. Here’s the report from our last visits.

Here’s a quick peek at what Little Big Sur Looks like now:

It’s beginning to look like a house. View is toward the front door and looking at the back patio, which faces the mountains.

It’s beginning to look like a house. View is toward the front door and looking at the back patio, which faces the mountains.

The living room, looking out toward the deck. “Dining room” is on the right. Kitchen is further right out of camera view.

The deck, with the outside lounging bed on one end, and the built-in couch on the other.

Party central. We inevitably end up sitting on the deck over cocktails.

“Open air kitchen”. Like everything else, the kitchen is open air. The most important feature? The solar-powered always-mak’n-ice refrigerator.

Very first dinner. It was good to eat and drink in our place, especially after a day of moving in, which of course includes porting shopping bags, luggage, etc. up the 200 yard path to Little Big Sur.

We even have our own cactus garden in the front.

Turkey in the Tropics? Our neighbors Steve, Rita and their daughter came down to LBS for Thanksgiving. Top to bottom: Shelling shrimp takes a long time, especially by lantern; a view of the kitchen from the upstairs loft; walking through the jungle on the way to the beach; party on the taxi during the trip back to PV.

Welcome to Yelapa. Yelapa is half way to Chonchos by water taxi. It’s by far the biggest and best known of the resort villages on the southern part of the Banderas Bay. Many think the place went downhill a couple of years ago when it got electricity. We thought it was pretty charming, even with working lights. Top to bottom: FW and El looking to get on a wireless network while standing in front of a trash dump. There are no roads in Yelapa, just a maze of walk ways. Right off the pier is a little restaurant, Bahia Café, that just so happens to have spectacular food. Yelapa’s most famous resort, Verana, is located on the top of the mountains. Getting there takes 30 minutes of climbing, which makes the walk to LBS look wimpy. The resort is absolutely gorgeous, which for $450+ per person per day, it should be.

It’s time for all of us to migrate north again. Till next time.

November 2007

Eighteen months and eight trips ago, Karen and I purchased a yet-to-be-built Palapa on a turtle preserve 30 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  There were a lot of warning signs that this wouldn’t be your normal real estate project, which we oh-so-typically ignored.  Like, it wasn’t really a purchase, since it was a long-term lease.  And OK, it wasn’t the normal long-term 99 year Mexican lease either, since it was only 40 years long and it was a sublease, not a lease.  And why get our own lawyer since the sublease was in Spanish and I can’t read Spanish?  I knew immediately that I liked the Gringo developer, John, when he pulled out a bottle of Raicilla (the local version of Tequila shown being made on the left) when starting to talk about the “deal points”.  Little did I know that the “purchase” would be the most conventional part of this experience.

The next hint that maybe this wasn’t going to be your average, slightly vexing vacation home construction project was the small little fact that the only way to get there was via an hour long water taxi ride.  At the time, I didn’t understand this the only way that we could get there and it was the only way that anything was going to get there.  Which turns your sense of project planning and timing upside down since things like the hundreds, if not thousands, of bags of cement used for construction needed to come via water too.  Other things useful for construction, like power tools, were not in abundance either since the place is off the electrical grid and runs primarily by solar, generator and mule power. Heavy emphasis on the latter.

So I thought it would be fun to write a mini journal chronicling our experiences building our palapa, which we named “Little Big Sur” (LBS) because our view reminded us of Big Sur.  Some of you unfortunate enough to have received the various earlier versions, have periodically responded with various ways of saying, “better you than me”.  This has only made me more determined to recapture what reputation I have and prove you wrong: that KR and I aren’t really crazy; that we have, indeed, made a savvy real estate deal rivaling The Donald’s.  This is the latest installment from our trip this past week and I wanted to bring everyone up to speed as we are getting painfully close to completion, currently scheduled for Thanksgiving (yes, that’s 2007).  Lines will be forming for the Grand Opening ceremony, I’m sure.

This trip was both exhilarating and a total grind.  Exhilarating because we’re seeing LBS come together and it’s absolutely, mind-boggling beautiful.  The pictures below do not do it justice.  It’s all the more gratifying as we see our vision become a reality, which is way cool for a first time “builder.”    Working with John has been a joy as we marvel at his vision, creativity, and ability to organize his little troop of workers. But it’s also been a grind as the weather has been horrible (hot, humid and alive with every kind of bug you don’t want to see), exhausting (lugging stuff all around, climbing up and down ridges, making construction decisions, doing errands, and riding back and forth on the taxi), and tedious. Here’s the typical sequence of a construction supervision visit:

  • Spend weeks prior to the trip buying stuff that you can’t get in Mexico and then at least a week before the trip packing stuff
  • Spend a day carting that stuff to PV via car, plane and taxi
  • Spend a couple of days walking up and down the ridge, visiting LBS, making decisions
  • Revise plans
  • Pay more money
  • Revise plans
  • Get back to PV
  • Go shopping for … beds, stoves, faucets, etc.
  • At every chance, get a hard-earned cocktail
  • Gladly fall into bed and watch Spanish TV

Maybe because of the above, we have learned a lot about how to do this, although I’m not sure exactly what “this” is.  Part of “this” is how to travel frequently to Mexico, how to build a house, how to build a house in a foreign country, how one decision affects others which of course affects money, how to explore a place that is “foreign”, how to meticulously plan logistics to a really hard to get to place, etc.  Here’s my quandary:  I know that some of you want all the gory details and “key learning” and others of you just want some laughs and a few pictures. Here’s the entire menu, so order what you want.

Progress? We decided to make Little Big Sur a little bigger and added some floors! No, this is an-all- too-typical scene in PV these days -- massive construction. PV is undergoing a transformation which is noticeable at every visit. I’ve never seen so much construction in such a small town. I suppose with more people, comes more regulation. The big controversy is the installation of the dreaded parking meter. Installing meters apparently became a necessity to pay for the new most-beautiful-on-the-beach-parking-structure that no-one-uses because street parking is free.

Wandering around town, there are construction projects in every size and shape in most parts of the city.  This is good news if you’re a developer, shop owner, “services” employee, a construction worker or someone looking to buy a condo.  I’m not sure its good news for everyone else.  We already have a Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Office Depot and a dozen Mexican department stores. Starbucks is slowly mounting an attack on the dozens of local coffee shops and they now have their second store open.  Soon to come on the scene is Home Depot (yah baby!) and Costco. Can Neiman Marcus be far behind?

Still There. Old Vallarta is still there, if perhaps in slightly smaller doses. These pictures are of an Old Town neighborhood called Conchas Chinas (Chinese Shells). Conchas Chinas is a gussied up section in the hills on the southern tip of El Centro sometimes referred to as the Beverly Hills of PV. Needless to say, we can only afford to walk around the area.

Green Season: October signals the end of the rainy season with the jungle at its greenest. It’s also at its fullest in terms of wildlife: red fox, jaguar, wild boar, dozens of kinds of birds, crab, and lots of lizards all live up there. I’ve only seen the crab, lizards and dozens of different kinds of bugs, many of which were making me their meal this trip. This is a picture of our little village in a small cove which John calls “Chonchos.”

Traveling Like a Mexican: KR and I always looked askance at Mexicans in LAX on their way home. Invariably, they looked like they were taking everything including the new kitchen sink in their luggage. We now understand, having gone to Ross the night before our trip and bought the two largest, cheapest pieces of luggage we could find and three huge duffel bags. We then proceeded to stuff them with pillows, flatware, a full set of glasses, flash lights, binoculars, four kinds of board games, dried food, books and paper towels. Somehow we got the bags onto the airplane (no extra charges : )), through Mexican customs (no taxes : )), to Puerto Vallarta, then the 20 miles south to the water taxi pick up point, ONBOARD the water taxi along with 35 other people, and finally OFF LOADED on the beach at Chonchos. And we did it with no breakage and nothing hitting the water! Here, we get help humping the stuff the final 100 yards up the beach.

One Year Ago. Left: Site of Little Big Sur first cleared. Middle: The basic structure is created, with the “innovative” lower deck design. Right: KR and John look happy with themselves.

“Mule Highway” Our version of Interstate 5’s “Grapevine” in LA, we now have a well-traveled foot/mule path used as the primary construction road to our section of the Resort. Unfortunately, most of the way is uphill. Here John and KR pass one of our neighbor’s houses in an early stage of construction. I’m told the neighbor works for Blackwater, which is reassuring as you can never have too much security. Since his place has a commanding view of our cove and coast line, he’ll keep a sharp eye out for any approaching trouble.

On top of the ridge, sits LBS: The “door” is behind the round window. Eventually, there will be some sort of low wall on top of the steps to separate the kitchen bar from he entrance.

View from back patio forward. Little Big Sur might be THE definition of open living, as there are only five walls in the place, and they’re not all connected. Somehow, it’s grown from 500 sq ft. to 1500 sq. ft. of open space, making it the largest casita in the resort. The stairs on the right go to the loft bedroom. The kitchen is also on the right. Immediately to the left of this picture would be the bathroom and bedroom.

Standing in the Dining Room, looking at the kitchen counter and up to the second sleeping loft.

The Deck: Looking at the cement couch and outside bed. Dining room is to the left, ocean to the right.

The Master Suite. Wiring and doors yet to be finished. Bathroom is directly behind the bedroom. The bedroom, like everything else, will be “open.” I’m asked a lot about how to protect stuff from the weather and possible intruders. We’ll use some sort of bamboo type shades around all the major parts of LBS to protect from the elements. As to intruders, I suppose our best protection is remoteness. Not many people get to this neck of the jungle, and those who do we’ll know. We’ll also have some lockable closets for the family heirlooms.

Size matters, at least when it comes to solar systems. Many think that we over-built, as we have four panels to everyone else’s one, six batteries to everyone else’s two, and an inverter. That’s what they think now, but they’ll be jealous once I get my DirecTV, Internet, DVD equipment going. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, we’re getting a world-class blender. Once on stream, I’m thinking of selling my excess electricity to some of my neighbors. “Worldwide Walti Solar Power” has a certain ring to it.

Everything comes by boat, either from PV or Chimo. Here, the kitchen counter top is unloaded with some wall boards. Yes, they successfully unloaded everything.

About a dozen pieces of local Parrota wood have made this curved counter top. Our Mexican Hostess is admiring the work, while Artemio gets the water working in the kitchen sink. Ahh, team work…



More of this to come: After another hard day of supervision, it’s nice to have a cocktail on the couch, even if its cement. Someday it will feel like one as well and the cocktail will have lots of ice.

Lest we forget, we’re working towards our version of this. This is Dennis’ place, often referred to as “The Model Home.”

The Good Brother. Our water taxi “firm” is owned by a family and operated by a pair of brothers. We call Martin the Good Brother as he’s the better driver. This is all relative, of course. While Benito’s skills behind the wheel would be welcome if escaping the Federales, he’s best at helping old ladies and Gringo Tourists on/off the taxi during beach landings.

Well, that’s “all” for now.  Keep sending good vibes our way as we look to “finish” LBS for Thanksgiving.

Fred

New Special Bonus  Multi Media Section!

For those of you who just can’t get enough, here’s a couple of home movies from this trip:

1. First home movie of LBS:  the best way of seeing it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu9d6SCYODc

2. Water taxi ride from Chonchos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjC-LQWoF4k

3. Feeling of Speed:  water taxi coming out of Yelapa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZISxlEUi0A

4. Typical Puerto Vallarta bus ride http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m93i2zMKlAk

Note: This story was written in April 2006 and re-posted in TRT.  This is the first of several reports on our efforts to carve out a palapa, evnetually named “Little Big Sur,”  in the jungle south of Puerto Vallarta.

April 2006

This is the story of how we became owners of a 500 sq. ft. beach casa on a turtle preserve in the jungle 30 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, violating most of the rules of smart real estate buying in the process.  Along the way we crashed an international conference on real estate (apparently not learning much), got familiar with the emergency procedures for a scorpion bite, discovered the finer points of getting on/off a water taxi, and partied in an Old Town PV bar in which the most popular way of entering or exiting was on the back of a donkey. Puerto Vallarta would seem to be our kind of town.

It began innocently enough; Karen came across an ad on an international real estate web site:

“Beachfront Cottage Near Pt. Vallarta.  Our private colony is NOT FOR EVERYONE.  We are looking for like-minded escapist for the second phase of construction…There are prohibitions in forest cutting, hunting and importing non-indigenous plant life.  There can be no pets, mechanized toys.  During the turtle season, beach facing lights must be turned off…”

As we were to find out, “NOT FOR EVERYONE,” will go down in the advertising hall of fame as the most truthful copy writing ever written.

Quicker than you can say, “I want this!” KR shot off an email saying we were interested, while asking a few basic questions. Apparently the questions weren’t the right ones as we got a “there are no more lots left” response.  Trying to stave off the imminent suicide of my wife, I decided to try again with a slightly different approach.  I wrote an inquiry laced with references to the penguin farm we’d been to in Chile, the turtle preserve we saw in Baja, how we just worshiped being amongst Mother Nature, and how we often trekked Out There to just get away from people.  I was careful not to ask any questions.

A day or so later “John” emailed and instructed us to let him know when we were coming.  I had never heard of John as I had emailed someone named Amalia.   I tried several times to reach John, but he went quiet once again.

So, that is how it came to be that we flew to Puerto Vallarta for a quick four day real estate scouting adventure, intent at the very least in exploring the Puerto Vallarta area.  Some time ago KR and I got it into our heads that we needed a retreat somewhere in Mexico.  We like Mexico a lot, it’s much cheaper than north of the Rio Grande, so our dream was to buy a beach house in some not-fully-developed part of Mexico.  This past Labor Day we drove up and down the Yucatan Peninsula looking for our beach house only to realize that the days of cheap beach places in the Yucatan were long, long gone. Unless you call $650k cheap.

Look way out there to the right and that's where we're headed

In order to save time and money, we flew through the night and got to PV (via Guadalajara) early in the morning.  By that afternoon we had explored the coast along Banderas Bay north of PV.  We were like a SWAT team hitting every village we came across; drive to the beach, look at the “quality” of the surf, see if the place had any charm and/or action, then head for a real estate office (all little Mexican villages now have real estate offices) to check out inventory and pricing.  While there were a number of beautiful places, PV made the Yucatan look like a Pauper’s village.  Nothing even remotely workable for less than seven figures.

That night we went back to our hotel feeling depressed.  Coincidently, a conference given by the International Living group had attracted a couple of hundred fellow Americans looking to relocate down south.  The conference seemed jammed packed with information on everything from real estate laws for each Latin American country to tax advice.  But we were too stubborn and be done when we just wanted to do it, not study it.  Yet, by the third cocktail talking with some of the attendees, I was becoming convinced Honduras was the only beach we could afford.

Then my Blackberry vibrated and there was a note from John.  He would pick us up at 7:45AM because we had to get to the water taxi by 9:00am.  Oh great, there are two things I hate a lot:  prop planes (like the one we just flew in on) and small boats.  Somehow I suspected that this water taxi wasn’t going to be large.  And John said something about it taking an hour to get ‘’there.”

Easy trip: plane, land taxi, water taxi, and hike up the beach

Like clockwork, John arrives at 7:45AM to pick us up in front of our hotel.  John,  as it turns out, is a 40ish American who “took a left turn in Texas about 20 years ago and never looked back.  He met his wife, Amalia, in Acapulco about that time and they eventually moved to Puerto Vallarta. Shortly after he got his lease, the government decreed that this area would become a bio reserve in which there would be very strict rules on what could be built and how the wild life could be treated.  We’d come across a similar situation in the Yucatan with the Sian Ka’an bio reserve.  Same thing there – you can only build 500 sq ft “houses” and you can’t chop no plants down, be cruel to the turtles, etc.   Me, I’m wondering how I’m going to be “cruel” to the Jaguars (not the car) that are reputed to be living near by…

As John continues to describe his 25 acres on three, count them, three beaches, with jungle wild life all about, I take a quick glance at KR.  I immediately know I’m screwed as she’s alit like all the fire flies that are supposed to light up the jungle at night.  John is going on about there will only be 24 cottages on his 25 acres, how there are only two left to buy, etc.  There are, however, some downsides to staying at the Preserve.  No noisy devices are allowed (read TV as in SpeedTV), no pets of any kind, lights off in turtle season, etc.  Its’ when he talks about all the scorpions that KR’s expression changes.  Seems like the little creatures come out at night and can easily be stepped on.  John reassures Karen that they have full “medical kits” at the Preserve and no one has had to go to the hospital after getting bitten.  Yet.  No time to dwell on this little bit of news as the taxi has arrived and we need to get on board.

John leads the way down to the beach and heads to one of the dozen or so water taxis anchored in the surf.  He – and everyone that’s getting in our taxi – is carrying lots of stuff:  car battery, two crates of milk, furniture covers, bags of food, blocks of ice, etc.   It’s then that I notice that I’m the only passenger-to-be wearing leather shoes, everyone else had flip flops or sandals.

About a dozen of us scramble on board.  John tells us there are four or five stops along the way before we get to the Preserve as we’re the second to the last place this taxi goes.  Motor starts and our Captain (Pedro, a 16 year old Mexican wearing wrap around sun glasses and eating a morning burrito with one hand) carefully steers our little boat out of this small inlet and south toward who knows what.

We’re bouncing a long the water before I can say “Honey are you sure you want to do this?”  Pedro seems to be in a hurry.  Bam! Bam!  As the bow flies over one wave, it slams down on the next.  “Never seen it this rough,” John offers.

Right.

After about 20 minutes I relax my death-grip on the boat’s bench and look to the left as we bam-bam-bam down the coast.  The jungle/forest comes right up to the shore’s rocky cliffs, and the waves break with a fair amount of vigor just 50 yards from us.  Even though much of the forest is brown since we’re at the tail end of the non-rainy season, it’s still beautiful to look at.  There aren’t many inhabitants beyond the few villages that Pedro hauls ass in and out of, “dropping off” passengers and freight at each.  I’m starting to think this is pretty cool when I remember that we got to come back this way too.  Small planes are sounding  better all the time.

We arrive at the Preserve just over an hour after we begin.  Exit method is different here:  go to the bow of the boat, wait until John or Pedro shout “Now!” as the boat rides down one of the breakers, and jump off into the surf.

Gee, only seven hours till Pedro returns.

Walking ashore, we’re enthusiastically greeted by Dennis, Buzz and Leila, three current residents.  I’m thinking that the arrival of Pedro is probably the day’s Big Event.  Three English-speaking people falling off the boat (OK two falling off, one stepping off) means they can TALK to humans.   I’m already starting to get jumpy, “Hey Dennis, what do you do here all day?” Dennis bought his cottage in January and has been here for about a month.  Buzz and Leila have been here for the past week.   They’re all neighbors and seem unhappy only about one thing –t hey don’t get down here often enough.  That’s great, but I’m still wondering what we’d do after the first couple of days.  I’m encouraged that cell phones at least work– maybe my Blackberry will actually vibrate!

The Preserve at this stage is basically a very pretty construction site with materials sprawled on the beach and the sound of John’s construction crew echoing through the jungle.  Of the 24 cottages that will eventually be located here, less than a dozen are finished, and most of those will be “upgraded” to the new, expansive, 500 sq. ft. plan.  The government has given him until the end of 2006 to get it all done before his building permits run out.  I can’t see how it’s possible, but John assures me that he’s going to do it.

“Doing it” here means, among other things, bringing everything in by boat: Logs, refrigerators, solar panels, furniture, roofing materials, nails, toilets, stoves, tile, beer, wall boards, tools, food, etc., etc., etc.  This includes workers who take the taxi here on Monday, work all day, then take the two mile hike to Chimo to sleep.  Then reverse the process the next day.  On Friday, they take the taxi back home.   I literally can not imagine how they get all the stuff here given the difficulty we found in just getting in the taxi with a back pack on.

Since my Mom didn’t raise no dummy, I knew John had won KR over at the “Hello” part of his sales pitch.   So, we’ve agreed to “buy” a cottage yet to be built, located somewhere in the back 40 part of this Preserve.  We’ll call it “Little Big Sur” because we think the view will remind us of the cliffs around Big Sur, California. We don’t know whether the view will actually be like that or not since we can’t actually see the ocean through all the jungle growth at our site.   KR and I are planning to come back to the Preserve sometime in the summer just before they lay the “foundation” so we can get an accurate assessment of our site.   Then we’ll probably come back a couple of times between then and the anticipated completion in December ’06.

So, that’s the story of how we became what Mexican’s call “Possessors” of a 500 square foot cottage in a turtle preserve somewhere south of Puerto Vallarta.  As to the donkey-riding bar in Old Town, that too was John’s fault.  It seems that we just happened into John’s favorite bar the night after we signed the papers.  I even got to meet Amalia, heck I got to dance with Amalia.

Oh, and one more thing.  Come visit us anytime.