El Tuito, Jalisco
El Tuito is a place where foreigners can still trot out their basic or intermediate Spanish without their waiter or store attendant switching to perfect (albeit American) English. Surrounding its charming old plaza, thick adobe buildings are painted a uniform yellow ochre trimmed in orange. Rooftops are mossy red tejas; cobblestone streets are fairly even and easily traversed. At 762 meters (2,500 feet) above sea level, the climate is fresher than on the coast, and although it can still get searing hot, less humid, too. Vegetation is a mixture of pines, oaks, and semi-tropical plants and trees.
Tourists from Puerto Vallarta are being encouraged to visit this endearingly drowsy town, and massive green signs along the highway direct travelers to the county seat of El Tuito and to its beautiful and uncorrupted beaches, including Mayto, Tehuamixtle, and Villa del Mar.
A Good Place to Read, Walk, and Relax
Like San Sebastián, in the mountains behind Puerto Vallarta (to which municipality El Tuito belonged in the 1800s), this town of about 3,500 inhabitants is a place for visitors who want to indulge simple pleasures. With this plan in mind, I rented a small adobe house from an artist friend in PV who uses it for retreats and student field trips.
My whitewashed house facing a country lane just a few blocks from the main plaza was cozy, with a fireplace to heat it on the unusually cold February nights. Cocks crowed day and night, while herds of red and yellow chickens clucked and scattered under banana and mango trees in search of seeds, loose grain, and bugs. Just one block behind my rented house, the landscape became immediately pastoral. In an enclosed pasture, three stout brown cows grazed in an enviable ratio of fodder to beast.
One of my daily routines in El Tee (as I came to think of the village) was to walk my collie dog along the packed dirt and cobblestone road leading to Yelapa. Each morning stroll was accompanied by the soundtrack of hundreds of shiny, iridescent roosters at a breeding facility less than a half mile from town. In preparation for their 15 minutes of fame in area palenques (cock-fighting rings), these roosters kept fit by exercising their vocal cords, beating their winds, and hopping on top of the inverted "V"-shaped, tepees that sheltered them. Just before the rooster farm, I often stopped at the local graveyard to admire the elaborate tombstones and valley views. As I returned back home, I'd collect twigs and branches---liberated from massive old trees lining the road during uncharacteristic winter storms---to start my evening fire.
Needing some contact beyond that of my amiable collie dog, a hectare of screaming roosters, and a graveyard full of souls long gone to their great reward, I'd head in the afternoons to downtown El Tee. Some of the one- and two-story adobe buildings have been painted and restored, others are dilapidated if dignified. Mossy, red tile roofs are ubiquitous. Surrounding the large, pretty main plaza are government offices (including the tourist office), mini super groceries, and restaurants catering to the local palate.
The newish Patio de Mario is the most tourist-oriented eatery, and sells products like fruit liqueurs, honey, and mountain coffee in the entryway gift shop. Half a block off the square en route to the main highway, El Valle Azul was my favorite pit stop. I could sit outside and watch the small-town scene roll by, or inside to catch Spanish-language shows on the History Channel or National Geographic. Their yummy hot chocolate was the perfect late afternoon snack.
Petrogylphs, Liquor, and Beautiful Beaches
One of El Tuito's few official attractions is Hacienda el Divisadero, outside of town off the road to Yelapa (via the inland town of Chacala). Most people go as part of a tour arranged in Puerto Vallarta, but you can also just show up (you'll need a car or an urge to hitchhike and hike) to have a ranch-style meal. (It's closed on Mondays.) Possibly you'll be able to join a tour group to see the process that turns green agave plants into raicilla (first cousin to tequila) or to rent a horse to visit some ancient area petroglyphs.
No one seems to know how old these rock engravings are, or who made them, so it's not exactly an educational outing. Still, the cartoony squiggles and dots evoke a bygone era and are interesting to see. A visit by van, as some folks do on a "petroglyph tour" out of Vallarta, I think would be decidedly under-whelming. But my horse ride along---and frequently through, as we crossed the water ten times---the river made the trip to the glyphs interesting and fun. During the wet season the river floods its banks and the horse tours head for a smaller, petroglyph-covered rock on the other side of the ranch.
I showed up at the hacienda one lazy (i.e., boring) afternoon, and had a meal while I waited for the guide to return from a scheduled petroglyph tour. Efraín was soon describing the trees under which we rode on our spirited but obedient mounts. Massive parota trees---which, like the walnut and oak, are used for furniture-making---shaded the path. Uña de gato (cat's claw) and other plants serve medicinal purposes; arrayán and nanche are tiny fruits used in both food and drink. Beside the river, cows munched lush green guinea grass. It was a pleasant afternoon's diversion.
County seat of the Cabo Corrientes municipality, El Tuito's claim to fame is its gorgeous and little-visited beaches. One rutted dirt road leads to Yelapa, but unless you have a thirst for adventure and a four-wheel drive vehicle, this village on a beautiful, horseshoe-shaped bay is easier accessed by water taxi from Boca de Tomatlán or Puerto Vallarta. El Tuito, however, is the departure point for Mayto, Tehuamixtle, and Villas de Mar, as well as even smaller villages. The 21st century has seen the advent of an improved access road, phone service, and even (limited) Internet access. If you want to see these beaches in their pristine state, get there soon, before the developers change the postcard-perfect panorama forever. And don't forget to stop in El Tuito for hot chocolate or a shot of the region's famous, fiery raicilla.