Mark and Gail Learned are our "double neighbors". We are neighbors in Gig Harbor where we live aboard our respective boats on C Dock at Murphy's Landing Marina. We are also neighbors of sorts in Mexico in that we own condos in Puerto Vallarta. We decided to combine forces for a road trip down the Costa Alegre (the Happy Coast) to the small beach resort town of Barra de Navidad.

Going by our guide book, we weren't sure our standard Chevy sedan rental car would make it to the isolated coastal village of Ipala. The roads were described as best handled by high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles. But we figured, what the heck, if it got really bad, we'd simply turn around and head back to Highway 200, the main route from Puerto Vallarta to Manzanillo and beyond. The road was a bit bumpy and dusty to say the least but our trusty Chevy made it from the inland highway to the coast without difficulty. We stopped to ask directions in the small town of Llano Grande--Steve using his best Spanish--and the Mexican cowboy who sauntered up to the car window gave us extensive directions in perfect English.


It turns out that the small bay that cruising sailors call Ipala is actually Tehuamixtle. I guess Ipala is easier to pronounce and spell. It looked much the same as when we anchored Kavenga here two years earlier in December of 2004.

The actual village of Ipala is about three kilometers further south, or about half way down the beach in the back ground. Beside the numerous panga launches, you can see two cruising sailboats and two shrimpers at anchor.

There are at least two good restaurants here, one in the white building in the foreground, the other in the thatched palapa against the rocky cliff. We chose the latter, known as "Candy's", short for Candelario.






We saw fisherman unloading bags of fresh oysters they had just brought in. That was all Mark had to see. To start things off, he ordered a platter of raw oysters on the half shell--16 in all.

"Mui bueno!"









After lunch we got back on the road. Before coming to the tiny village of Ipala we encountered this 7-foot boa constrictor on the road. We subsequently identified it as a boa after the trip. Had we known it was not venemous at the time we might have gotten a little closer. He was a beautiful, mucular snake and not fully grown--this species reaches 10 feet according to what we read.







We probably hadn't driven more than another ten minutes when we spotted something ahead crossing the road. At first we though it was a lizard, or possibly a land crab. But as we got closer we could see that it was a very large tarantula spider.

Once again the internet came to our aid after the trip and we were able to determine that this is a Bloodleg Tarantula. They are somewhat rare and sought after by collectors because they are relatively docile and make good pets.

If spiders can be pretty, then this one was pretty. Just the right colors for Halloween.




Our ultimate destination, Barra de Navidad, is really only about a three-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta--you could drive there for lunch, and some people do. But there is a lot of beautiful coastline in between and so we were taking our time.

Our first two overnight stays were on the shores of Bahia Chamela, a very large bay indenting the coast.

This is the "Swiss Family Robinson" style cabana that we stayed in our second night on the bay. It has three bedrooms, each with its own bathroom facilities, and a sort of outdoor kitchen and dining area on the ground floor. We paid $50 per room for the upper two rooms.

We were so close to the booming surf that it woke us up once or twice during the night.





There were about 15 or so of these cabanas along an otherwise totally deserted stretch of beach. And none of the other 14 cabanas were occupied.

We had the whole beach to ourselves.

According to the guidebooks, the tourists only come here during the Christmas and Spring Break vacation times. There is a small RV park and a motel slightly back from the beach and there were a few people in each of those, but no one right on the beach like us.







The surf broke too abruptly to make it good for body surfing, but Mark and Steve enjoyed a nice long swim out beyond the breakers.

The water temperature was about 80F or slightly warmer, at least 5 or 6 degrees warmer than Banderas Bay at that time.









Without the bright lights of the big city, we were treated to a nice sunset and later a view of the seldom-seen band of our Milky Way galaxy.










We made a brief stop the next day at Careyes, a small resort area with mostly large villas and a couple of large all-inclusive resorts.

We heard that both Oprah Winfrey and Sylvester Stallone have vacationed here in the past.










From the courtyard of the El Careyes Beach Resort, looking out toward the ocean.







A bit further down the road, at the south end of Bahia Tenacatita is the small beach town of La Manzanilla (not to be confused with the large city, Manzanillo).

There's a mangrove lagoon just behind the beach that was full of very large crocodiles, including these two guys that were probably ten feet long and obviously well fed.








We spent three nights at this hotel in Barra de Navidad. It was very nice and had cable TV with the Starz movie channel.

Gail stands on the terrace of their second floor room.

From here we explored Barra and nearby Melaque. And one day we took a side trip down to Manzanillo.









Across the Barra lagoon is the Grand Bay Hotel and the Isla Navidad Marina.

The sport fishermen that actually caught these two sailfish were kind enough to take a photo of us posing with their catch.







We drove all the way back home to Puerto Vallarta on the last day of our trip. We made a brief stop here at El Tecuan.

The photo is taken from the ruins of a failed resort. It was interesting to walk around and try to imagine what it must have been like when it was new. Scavengers have gone through and removed all of the copper plumbing and wiring.

It's a pretty spot, and something new will undoubtedly rise from the ashes in the years to come.