How Armi Got Her Encore

On November 15, 2009 my husband and I left Vancouver, BC and started our drive down south all the way to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in our jam packed SUV. This is our annual winter getaway from the long dreary rainy months of Vancouver. It was a pleasant 7 day drive stopping in Oregon, Reno, Las Vegas, Tucson, San Carlos Mexico, Mazatlan and finally in Bucerias, Nayarit. Nayarit or Riviera Nayarit is primarily an agricultural state of Mexico situated on the Pacific coast which is located on the Bay of Banderas. The state government has aggressively promoted and re branded Nayarit to become one of the fastest growing eco tourism destinations in Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Bucerias which is only 20 minutes drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport, is a quaint seaside town with pretty homes, condos, art galleries and a lively restaurant and club scene in the town centre. On December 1, 2009 I saw a for lease sign in one of the beachside restaurants. I asked my real estate agent friend to look into it. It turned out that the previous business has just shut down and the owner of the building is looking for a new tenant. I got the lease on Dec 5 and started renovation a week after. The palapa roof was completely changed, walls painted, the whole place had to be cleaned, new plants and accessories were installed. New furniture and equipments were brought in. I almost forgot that I had to buy plates, glasses, kitchen pots and pans. Then I had to buy food and booze to sell. I am in a total panic now because I had no one to make the menu. I started doing the menu and settled on making tapas and just selling wines. I had no staff and its 5 days to opening day. I hired one waiter who was building my palapa, I hired 2 French workers from Craigslist, and I hired one chef who was passing by. I hired another chef from the cooking school. I hired my painter’s assistant as dishwasher and so on and so forth. I forgot, I need a name for the place and a sign. I listed all the names that I can come up with. The name has to be catchy and something to do with music. So I named it ENCORE. I opened December 18, 2009 with 80 people and no menu, no fanfare, no advertising and a brand new staff. My staff turned out to be all pros and the evening was marvelous and everything went really well, considering that it was a “soft opening”. People loved the live jazz music and the tapas and the whole place looked amazing. Thanks to all my friends who helped clean and decorate the place. I was in a panic mode for over a month just trying to keep up with shopping and buying supplies and equipment for the restaurant. I still didn’t have a menu. But people love the food that we serve them. They were homemade, fresh and reasonably priced. The band was great and I was singing every night. Soon people started coming and hearing about this new fun happening place. It has become the new favorite spot for expatriates and tourists. Now, we have the best food, best view, best music, best margaritas and mojitos and best place to hang out. And yes, we now have a real good food and bar menu.

Are we there yet? PV to Vancouver

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We got up at 7:30 am with no alarm clock and started doing last minute stuff around the house. We planned to leave at 9 am but didn’t get away until 11:30 am. After saying goodbye to the neighbors, we finally pulled out of the gate, fill up the car with gas and last stop at the Mega for coffee and snacks for the road. It was sad leaving our house in Bucerias but we are excited to do our next adventure. It was a stressful and windy road up to Tepic until we hit the toll road to Mazatlan. We spent over 300 pesos in toll fees to cover about 300 km of toll roads. It was worth the money because the highway is less curvy and smoother. It was around 4 pm when we entered Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa. My first impression of the town was there were more older cars than around Banderas Bay and more air pollution. Then we hit the waterfront and it was beautiful. The road around the waterfront was lined with hotels and restaurants. It was longer and bigger than Puerto Vallarta. We came down to Paseo Claussen (Ice Box Hill) then headed north towards Los Pinos (the hotels look like the 60’s hotels on Sunset Blvd in LA), then we ended up in the Golden Zone of Playa Gaviotas. Azteca Inn is where we decided to spend the night. It is a nice small hotel with a courtyard and pool in the middle. We like these kinds of hotels when we are traveling because we can park our car in front of our room. We had a swim and met 2 older ladies who are just vacationing while their condo in Puerto Vallarta is being renovated (what a life!). They were very interested in my stories that we ended up like old friends. Dinner was at a beach restaurant called Pancho’s . You have to go through an shopping arcade to get to this restaurant. Food was good and enormous and very reasonable. The town has very little tourists but this restaurant was busy. There was a man doing a fire eating show on the beach right in front of us. I gave him money hoping he will go away because the kerosene fume was killing my appetite. I feel bad for the vendors and the business community. The swine flu media circus has devastated the tourist industry in Mexico. The government and the business community is doing such a good job trying to stop this so called epidemic to the expense of small business owners and employees of the tourist industry. I still have to meet someone who knows someone who has contacted the flu. Its early bedtime tonight and we’ll leave tomorrow when we are ready. Hopefully we will spend the night in Guaymas/San Carlos Bay.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I didn’t sleep well last night. There were a couple of mosquitoes hovering around me and they kept me up all night. I plan to come back again and spend more time in Mazatlan. We left early and drove to San Carlos Bay near Guaymas. It was another long drive but quite pleasant. I got a chance to drive this time. Just for 2 hours. I got to use the cruise control. It felt weird. I think the reason that John does not want me to drive is because I’m a much better navigator than him. He gets antsy when we’re approaching directional signs. San Carlos is a nice seaside town mostly visited by Americans. It looks like Beverly Hills with its trimmed palm trees and wide boulevards. It has a sign like the Hollywood sign on a hill. The sea of Cortez is so blue and peaceful and I heard it’s great for fishing. We drove around looking for a hotel for 30 minutes. We settled at a place called Creston Hotel near the beach. It is a simple clean hotel with a pool in the middle. I like this better than last night’s. I slept really well because it rained so hard and there were loud thunders and lightning. I haven’t seen rain for the last six months.

The main road through town is lined with hotels, restaurants and manicured trees. It has a marina at the end and condos farther from the water. However, the town is very quiet as a result of the economic downturn and the flu warning. Dinner was okay at a restaurant called Bananas.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It feels fresh this morning with the rain last night. We looked for an OXXO store to get our coffee and muffins for the road. San Carlos looks pretty with the morning sun and the streets. Back on the road again, we head to the US border of Nogales. The toll roads make a big difference with driving. They are well maintained and the toll fees are necessary for the upkeep. We paid around 900 pesos ($90 Cdn$) since we started our trip. We reached the border at around 1 pm with no problem. Our car was searched but we went through okay. I felt sorry for the trucks drivers who have to line up for kilometers. The drivers, mostly Mexicans have set up their stools and cooler beside their trucks. It’s a good time to eat and socialize while waiting for their turn to be cleared at the border. I guess you make the best of the situation. We went to the first Wendy’s just outside of Tucson. We don’t eat breakfast or lunch on long drives. We figure we lose daylight hours if we stop and sit down in a restaurant. So we buy yogurt, bananas, and sandwiches and eat as we drive. This way we can stop driving at around 4 pm and rest for the evening. It was another long day of driving so we look for a hotel just before Phoenix on Highway 10. We chose the Inn Suites on West Baseline Rd. The beds are so nice and soft and wireless internet. And the best part of it is there is a huge mall right in front of the hotel. It’s called Arizona Mills. I decided we are staying for 2 nights here since we are really tired. As part of my exercise regime, I need a long walk in the mall for a full day tomorrow. Dinner was at Claim Jumper (chicken pot pie and steak), it was delicious!

May 22 and May 23, Friday, Saturday

We decided to stay an extra night in Tempe Arizona (in front of the mall). You can guess what I did the whole day (shopping what else?) I got frustrated after 4 hours because I haven’t even made it halfway through the mall. I had to go back to the car twice to bring back my loot. The hotel is just across the street but I had to bring the car to the parking lot of the mall so I don’t have to carry my bags from one store to the next. I bought almost anything from chopping board to pot holders to linens to clothes. I was exhausted and a relaxing bath was a great way to end a busy day.

I woke up early on Saturday and went for a jog around the perimeter of the mall (it doesn’t open until 10 am). We had a good breakfast at the hotel (included in the room rate). I don’t know how the hotel makes money. On the road again at 9 am using Highway 10 to Lake Havasu City. This is the water playground for the area. The Colorado River divides California and Arizona. We took this scenic route and stopped at Lake Havasu to see the London Bridge and watch all the girls in their bikinis walk the resort streets. It is Memorial Day weekend so it’s busy and the lake and river is full of campers, seadoos, speedboats etc….After a brief stop, we proceeded to tackle Highway 40 heading west. It’s a long deserted highway (duh! It’s the Mohave Desert). I’m having a terrible headache at this point probably because of the dry heat which I’m not used to. We were listening to a novel by David Baldacci, “Split Second” between our favorite cds and the local commentary on the local radio. Time flies fast this way when you’re driving. I just realized that we were driving parallel to the old “Route 66”. …Flagstaff Arizona don’t forget Wynona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino,…….Right now, Route 66 is sometimes passable and sometimes it just disappears into a dead end and reappears again after a few miles. It became so popular with motorists that it the 1960’s it was a 2500 mile traffic jam so the new bypass interstate highways were built including Highway 40. Most of the small towns became ghost towns after that. We are spending the night in Barstow and a much needed early dinner. We’ll see if we have time to go to the museum tomorrow.

May 24, 2009

This is Sunday morning in Barstow, CA. We grabbed our continental breakfast to go and headed towards Main Street of the town. The buildings are pretty old, kinda 60’s style. This road was part of the Historic Route 66. We connected with Highway 99 and headed for Fresno, CA. It was a very smooth ride until we reached Sacramento (watch for the signs and overpass). We stayed on Hwy 99 and decided to stop in Yuba City. We passed by a lot of orchards (almonds and pistachios). It was pretty going through the orchards instead of the rat race on Highway 5. It was a long drive again today. So I rewarded myself with a bag of pistachio nuts ( a great way to pass the time on a long ride).

May 25, 2009

It’s getting cooler now. I put on my khaki pants and a long sleeve t-shirt for the road. I planned our trip today so we could overnight in Eugene, Oregon. We were contemplating on staying 2 nights in Portland but we just wanted to get home at this point. We checked in at a hotel in Springfield. It was beside the Gateway Mall. It was only 6 pm so I headed to the mall. I bought presents for my daughter hoping she would like them. I’m a little bit light headed because of the long drives so I kept taking Gravol (Dramamine). The problem is I can’t sleep while we’re driving because I’m the navigator, waitress, disc jockey etc. At this point, we were almost finished with the book that we are listening (“Split Second”). We are down to the last 2 cassettes (remember the cassette tapes? Our car actually has one). The plot thickens as the end draws near and it’s quite exciting because we are trying to figure out who is the culprit. We would sometime stop the tape and discuss our own interpretation of the plot.

May 26, 2009

We were quite excited to start the trip today. This is the last leg of our adventure. The trees have turned into pines, maple and everything found in the rainforest. They look so green and fresh and clean. We finished the book. We didn’t guess who did it which made it a really good book. We got to the Canadian border with no problem. It was traffic as usual on Highway one approaching Surrey’s Portman Bridge. Yes, they need to twin the bridge. We traveled from Puerto Vallarta Mexico through five US states without any traffic jam. We hit Canada’s Highway 1 and there is the bumper to bumper traffic. Amazing! It is sunny and warm today. We met Cecily and Anthony to get our keys and we proceeded to our condo. It looked nice and welcoming. We are home at last! Thank you for travelling with us.

Total Mileage: Bucerias, Mexico to North Vancouver BC – 5, 641 kilometers

Total Driving Time: 56 hours

PS. My daughter loved everything I bought her (and some of my stuff too)