I have been living in Mexico for over a year now. I can now officially call myself a resident of this beautiful country, no longer a tourist, finally starting to feel at home.
I have found it remarkably easy to settle into life here in Puerto Vallarta. It is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations for a very good reason: Puerto Vallarta is an enchantingly beautiful place. Pristine beaches, awe-inspiring mountains, and alluring jungles make up the varied terrain, and hundreds of thousands of travelers every year enjoy a vacation in Vallarta unlike any other.
When I first arrived, however, I was immediately struck by how many travelers seem to miss out on what I view as Puerto Vallarta's most noteworthy attraction: its local artisans.
Many of the most vibrant artistic, culinary, and religious traditions of the Bahia region survive only in its smaller communities, those areas that are less frequented by tourists but much more authentic and worth a visit. These are the communities where you can find Doña Elvira, a woman who makes tamales using the recipe that has been passed down for five generations, or Javier, a fisherman who catches stingrays using tools he fashions himself. While I have certainly enjoyed my time exploring downtown and participating in quite a few outdoor adventures, it is the local people I have met that are the reason I have grown to love this country.
Through my work with local non-profit Investours (www.investours.org), I bring travelers to Puerto Vallarta to meet local artisans who have applied for loans to grow their small business projects. Later, we use the tour fees to support interest-free loans for the artisans we visit. This past March, for example, we hosted a family from Toronto on a tour in Bucerias. First, Lupita, a local piñata maker, invited us into her home to show us how she crafts her vibrant piñatas. She gave the two young girls materials to make piñata versions of their favorite cartoon characters. Next, we headed to meet Doña Paty and she showed us how she paints bowls in the style of her hometown, Guerrero. She constructs her bowls out of clay by hand and later adorns them with beautiful designs of flowers, chili peppers, and geometric patterns. Later, the family visited Mary Chuy in her home at the top of a hill overlooking the entire town, and sat down with her family to enjoy a traditional meal of enchiladas and chicken with mole sauce. While the family savored a meal made with recipes passed down for generations, they learned of Mary Chuy's beautiful dream to open a restaurant on the roof of her house called “Buena Vista” (Good View).
At the end of the tour, everyone left with their hearts as full as their stomachs knowing that their tour fee would support an interest-free loan for Lupita. Every tour supports one artisan, and every artisan is guaranteed an interest-free loan after participating on three tours. Lupita was so grateful for the support, and more importantly she expressed how proud she was of the positive reactions to her craft. While she had never thought of herself as an artist, the tourists were really impressed with her skill, attention to detail, and creativity. Her humility made an impression on everyone, as did her beautiful piñatas!
To me, what makes Mexico such a wonderful place to live is the people. The generous, entrepreneurial, positive, family-oriented, spirited, and hardworking people I have met have been an inspiration. While I may not be in Mexico forever, it will always be a part of me and I know I will leave changed for the better.
Written by Corrina Jacobs for Caras de México. Click here to read more articles examining Mexican identity.
Photo by Kiersten Rowland (www.premaphotographic.com)