Even the whales are gay in Mexico's homo haven of Puerto Vallarta.
Most of us remember the school-yard gag about the gay whale. He sucked submarines and swallowed all the seamen. Semen, geddit? A naff joke but apparently not entirely preposterous.
I am sitting astride the bow of a speed boat, skimming the waves three miles off-shore from Puerto Vallarta, on the northern Pacific coast of Mexico. We are shadowing two 50 foot, 40 ton humpback whales, and a new born calf. Every few minutes they surface - sometimes just 30 feet ahead - spouting 10-foot high chutes of air and water. The visceral, primal roar of their breathing is awesome. As they dive, they lift their tails skyward, as if in a farewell salute, and then slip majestically below the waves.
Our whale-watching guide, Carlos from Ecotours, informs us that nearly 400 humpbacks migrate here every November to April, mating and giving birth in alternate years. In the breeding season, males sing whale songs as part of their mating ritual. Carlos confides, without a hint of embarrassment, that a third of the whale songs attract other males. Gay whales? Yep!
In Puerto Vallarta, it is not just the whales that are gay. This seaside resort is the San Francisco of Mexico. Gay and lesbian Mexicans flock here to savour the hedonism of this liberal-minded town. Also a top holiday destination for Mexican families, PV has a 'live and let live' ambience, where queer and straight mingle convivially. No one seems to mind if two guys walk down the street holding hands. If only the whole world was like this!
PV has been a long-time vacation spot for US and Canadian queers. It is still virtually unknown to Brits. Respect Holidays is the first UK gay travel operator to include PV in its schedule.
Could this be the next homo holiday hot spot? May be. For those seeking somewhere new and exotic, PV offers more than the bog-standard gay holiday formula of bars and beaches. It has got those - plus lots of fantastic ecological and cultural attractions, including alligators and jaguars at the La Tovara Springs nature reserve, and intricate beaded sculptures and paintings by the Huichol Indians.
On the same tropical latitude as Hawaii, PV nestles on the shore of Banderas Bay - a 75-mile arc of coastline studded with sandy beaches and rocky coves. Behind the town, the Sierra Madre mountains rise to over 6,000 feet and, in the south, they tumble down dramatically into the raging surf. It is not just the night-life that is wild!
I am staying in the Old Town, south of the Cuale River. It is a world apart from the new, commercialised northern Marina and Hotel Zone. The atmosphere here, in the cobbled streets, is more Mexican. Local people live, work and shop amid the hotels, bars and restaurants.
My hotel - the all-inclusive San Marino Plaza - is on the sea front. From my sixth floor room, the views over the Pacific Ocean are pure eye candy. Straight but gay-friendly, the hotel is 250 yards from the gay beach and the gay bars are within a half-mile radius.
PV's gay beach is slap-bang on the main shore, towards the southern end of Playa los Muertos - Beach of the Dead. Don't be put off by the name. It derives from a battle centuries ago. Everyone I met there was thoroughly alive - even glowing. This is not surprising. PV boasts nine hours of 25-30 degree sunshine almost every day.
The gay beach is called Blue Chairs because, you guessed it, all the deck-chairs are blue. It is dotted with palm thatched sunshades, and overlooked by a Mexican-style beach bar and restaurant flying the rainbow flag. Across the street is Blue Chairs Hotel, an exclusively gay resort with a fabulous roof terrace and pool - a magical place for sunset cocktails.
Most of the beach crowd are 'sun swallows' from the US and Canada. They fly down for a couple of weeks to escape the northern winter. There is also a smattering of German, Dutch, Spanish, French and Italian guys, and one or two faggerati from England. The rest are Mexican - either locals or vacationers from other parts of Mexico. Que mango! It's Hispanic slang for handsome - a useful phrase that often crossed my lips.
The beach is the centre of PV's gay day-life. There is a chatty picnic atmosphere. The only attitude here is friendly.
In contrast, the surf is ferocious. Six-foot waves crash like thunder on the shore. Being crazy about body surfing, this is my idea of paradise. I love riding six footers and being tossed about by man-sized breakers. Apart from me, however, few queers venture into the surf. "I'd love to go swimming", confesses one very precious Muscle Mary, "but salt water messes my hair".
Gay-curious teenage boys and married men - here on holiday with their families - wander along the boardwalk behind the gay beach. Looking and wanting, most are too nervous to join the fun. You sometimes see them later, as the sun goes down, at the spot where gay men meet for romantic assignations - and more. Situated on a forested headland at the far end of Playa los Muertos, it is the most exquisitely beautiful place in PV. Queers have taste when they choose cruising locations! To get there, you climb a small, narrow gully. Couples - and those hoping to get coupled - rendezvous on a rocky ledge 60 feet above the beach. Even if don't meet some gorgeous guy, you can be guaranteed to witness a sensational fiery sunset over the Pacific.
After all that exertion, you'll be bound to have a big appetite. PV has great eateries to suit all tastes and budgets. Family-run take-aways serve gob-smacking, meal-sized burritos for 90p. Alternatively, there are five-star restaurants, many at two-thirds of London prices.
Check out Kit Kat, a high-class gay-straight melting pot that serves the best cocktails in town. My favourite? Chocolate martini (vodka and chocolate liqueur). Bliss! The food is not bad either. Roasted tomato, mango and ginger soup. Cheddar corn tart with nopal (cactus) salad. Key Lime pie and angelica. Wow!
For modern Mexican cuisine in a stunning tropical setting, try the hacienda-style Remembranzas, with its garden terrace of palms, eucalyptus and bamboo. It is easy to get distracted by the atmosphere. Don't forget to eat! My delights were sweet coconut cornbread with tortilla soup, sesame-seeded shrimp and mole sauce, and Mexican coffee (a giant coffee with tequila, kahlua and ice-cream).
After dining out, most boyz head for the gay bars: El Morbo (florescent graffiti interior), The Ranch (cowboy-themed), Apaches (dykes, artists and writers), Los Amigos (roof terrace), and The Palm (drag and cabaret).
From midnight, the crowd drifts to PV's queer dance clubs. There are only three, but they are hot - and I am not talking about air-conditioning problems! Paco Paco is an industrial warehouse-style disco, with an open-air roof-top bar. Antropology has a chic Mayan-influenced décor; plus strippers, lap dancers and drag. Balcones's main dance floor is opulent Mexican art deco, overlooked by an all-white, hi-tech chill-out room. Perfect for showing off that newly acquired tan!
If, like me, you get bored with the gay scene, other adventures are available. The south side of Banderas Bay is flanked by mountainous jungle. There are no roads. The only way to get to these wilder shores is by boat. The MV Princesa Yelapa sails daily, with free food and an open bar. At Yelapa, if you are still sober, you can trek to a picture-postcard waterfall and lagoon.
Closer to PV, the cascades, rock pools and hiking trails at El Eden and Chino's and Chico's Paradise teem with exotic creatures - including red-green parrots and giant, phosphorous blue butterflies.
The Marieta Islands are snorkelling heaven, with shoals of rainbow-coloured tropical fish, plus dolphins, turtles and giant manta rays. They are also the nesting place of the rare Blue-Footed Booby bird, and the location of a tiny secret beach - La Playa Del Amor - that is only accessible by swimming through a rock arch at low tide.
For those seeking a bit culture, PV's got that too. Stunning modern Mexican sculptures grace the ocean-front promenade, the Malecon, and more than 20 art galleries display works by some of Mexico's most exciting contemporary artists.
My verdict? I'm not easily pleased but PV's got it all. Art, nature, beach and night-life. What more could any well-balanced homosexual want?
Puerto Vallarta Factfile
Air 2000 fly direct to Puerto Vallarta from Gatwick and Manchester. Summer flights from £460 return. Reservations: 08702 401 402, www.air2000.com.
Respect Holidays offer packages to Puerto Vallarta. Prices start from £629
for flight, airport transfers and seven night's accommodation, including meals and drinks (14 nights from £789). Phone: 0870-770 0169.
General info on Puerto Vallarta www.vallartaonline.com Gay info:
www.discoveryvallarta.com/guide.html Mexico Tourism Board 0870 900 9866.
To book eco-tours, whale-watching, jungle hikes, hot springs and boat trips contact Respect Holiday's ever-helpful PV rep, Sascha, at AEMèxico. Phone/Fax: 0052 322 221 5254. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.grupoaemexico.comCopyright Peter Tatchell 2002. All rights reserved.
Published as: Even the whales are gay down Mexico way, The Observer, 24 February 2002.
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