“Mexico prisons are not full right now. Do you know why? Because we’re working today!” joked Juan Carlos. I was 10 minutes into the bus trip from Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastián with Vallarta Adventures, and it was becoming clear that my guide and driver where like a sober version of Cheech and Chong. They had absolutely perfect comedic timing.
Our guide, Juan Carlos, a large Mexican man with a jovial sense of humor introduced himself, our driver Fidel, who is skinny as a pole, has a sharper voice, and likes to say “Ay Carrumba!”, and then our San Sebastian tour from Puerto Vallarta was on its way. As Fidel drove, Juan Carlos used the time to talk about Mexican history in a way that had the whole bus involved, using people to role play and act out important historical facts about life in San Sebastián in the late 1800s, early 1900s. The more he talked, the more involved everyone became, and soon he had everyone so enthralled that if he wandered off topic all he had to do was ask where he had left off and somebody would always jump in and tell him. That is the mark of a talented tour guide.
Our drive took us away from the coastline and into the mountains. We passed dusty sleepy Mexican towns, and wound around the mountains towards San Sebastián. The first stop on our tour was at a tequila distillery where we learned about the art of making tequila, enjoyed a tasting (which also included some local moonshine), and had the opportunity to buy a bottle (or four) before climbing back onto the bus.
Our tour of San Sebastián included at stop at Hacienda Jalisco for a tour of a traditional hacienda, followed by a visit to a coffee plantation, and then the town centre where we enjoyed some traditional Mexican food and had time to wander on our own and explore.
Once a rich silver mining town, San Sebastián is now half the size (in population) than during the silver boom, and in many respects the town has not changed very much over the years. The buildings are old. The streets are made of cobble stone, and a local 84 year old man can be seen walking around with a shovel, and a wheel barrel filled with rocks and dirt, patching holes in the road. In San Sebastián there are no tourist shops. The men wear cowboy hats and boots. And pick-up trucks are the vehicle of choice.
I spent my time wandering down small side streets, visiting local shops, and attempting to speak with locals. The sun was high and hot, and although many of my group were complaining of the heat, I was in heaven. It was a perfect day for exploring.
As a solo traveler I tend to venture out on my own when I’m in a new city, but every once in awhile it’s nice to take a tour, and let someone else take the reigns.