This is a “trip report” of an ATV road trip on April 5, 2009, from El Tuito to Tehuamixtle and Mayto, two very isolated beach communities on the Pacific Ocean south of Puerto Vallarta. The tour is run by Unique Tours of Puerto Vallarta.
While we originally recommended this tour, more recent developments have caused us to reconsider this recommendation. Apparently this tour was specially toned down for us because we had gone on it as people skeptical of ATV tours because of their disruption of and disrespect for the residents on the roads they traveled.
The ATV tours that Unique Tours now runs through Paso Ancho, a community next to where we live here in Vallarta, are a disgrace. They run through small Mexican residential communities causing tremendous amounts of noise and dust. On the beach in Mayto, we recently saw this tour racing at high speeds up and down the beach. Some people will love this attitude and some won’t. The people who live here certainly don’t.
Photos and Story by Sarah Hepting
A group of us took an ATV tour on Palm Sunday with a company called Unique Tours. We started the trip by meeting at the stables for the Yamaha Grizzly ATVs on Basilio Badillo in Old Town, Puerto Vallarta, early in the morning.
We hung out with Chihuahua pups, a full-sized, wealthy skull-faced Katrina and her table full of shiny helmets, and an esoteric collection of wall paintings and statues, while the owner Gary, his daughter Kammy, and co-worker, Alex, loaded the ATVs onto a trailer. We headed out of town in vans, south on the highway, to our launch point in El Tuito, about an hour south of Vallarta on Highway 200.
El Tuito is a very colonial town, situated in a mountain valley, molded by Spanish influence of long ago, outlasting the intentions of the conquistadors. This community deals with the seasons, the buildings are solid shelters against the heat, and the town boasts rural roots in its butcher shop with hanging meat, its cockfights, and its wall rings to tie up your horse. But the cell phone tower is the newest spire and it looks like there are good roads leading to and from many other towns. El Tuito is a hub.
After eating chile rellenos and chatting with the Piratas (a PV biker gang that happened to also be in town) at the transplanted Machi’s restaurant (yes, Enrique is a fair ways from his old location on Cardenas Street in Vallarta), I snapped a photo of baby Jesus in underpants and a familiar guy debating the merits of an ancient wall phone versus an out-of-range cell. Then we chilled out in the square, visiting Rene the Chihuahua pup and his girl, Eva. The bikes were unloaded and we were finally ready to “hit the dirt.”
Kammy gave us a practice lesson on how to start, move, and stop the Grizzlies and I climbed on and wondered what it was she had said. We were riding in pairs, and for the ride to the beach I sat on the back, with Rick driving.
This was my first time on a quad. While I prefer a horse to a machine for enjoyable travel, I really did have fun being on the back of that burly all terrain vehicle. The grit and noise complimented a connection to the surrounding scenery. Contrary to gringo lore, the roadside people smiled and waved, not offended at all by the shattering of their birdsong rural space.
After an hour on the dusty road our caravan of big-tire beasts halted at the top of a hill and we saw distant mountains hung with clouds, a foretelling of the Pacific Ocean. Gary told us that this was where we were headed.
We drove onward to Los Llanos (the plains), a small road-fork town where we parked under the ciruela (plum) and nanci trees and went into an outdoor cantina with a picture of a smiling Pope talking with Juan Diego about the Guadalupes. A shiny juke box full of CDs gave us a clue of this place’s secret party potential.
We bought a few ballenas, those “whale” bottles of beer, to share as we relaxed and talked about the things we had seen so far. Hawks and orchids were a given, but the dead cow on the side of the road trumped that, and the enormous perota tree full of snakes, which, upon second examination turned out to be only orchids, won all the chips.
After lunch, Brenda, a fellow traveler, and I visited the clean bathrooms and noted that we were now beyond the realm of flush toilets. We happily used the fifty gallon drum of water with the floating plastic tub to flush the toilet. After all the outhouses I’ve used, this hybrid rural baño is a work of genius.
Heading out of Los Llanos, I noticed that the territory was suddenly ruled by gnarly cactus, taller than the trees and seemingly very old, many covered with brown, furry buds. I wanted to take one home with us, and I started scheming of how to strap a piece onto the ATV. I found out later that these giants are called El Pitayo, or Mexican pipe organ cactus.
We started to feel cooler breezes and the road suddenly turned to pavement. We rounded a corner and suddenly there it was, the most royal blue water you will ever see. The Pacific Ocean was pounding on rocks and offering up the most beautiful white sand beach, and we had found Mayto.
We stopped at the Hotel Mayto and drank cervezas, watched the waves and listened to the wind, sitting in a glassed-in palapa. The only other activity seemed to be at the big turtle sanctuary run by the University of Guadalajara, a short distance up the beach.
Gary said he would bring a lady friend here to the Hotel Mayto, but if he was by himself, he would stay at the Hotel Rinconcito down the beach a bit. They roast pigs in the ground, sometimes, and grill fish from their private cove. We decided to go there to check it out.
What this tour (and all of the others to Mayto) don’t tell you in the brochures, is that it is impossible to swim on this vast expanse of beach because of the tremendous undertow. It would be suicide to try.
All my life I have heard about these out of the way beaches in Mexico where you could rent a room or pitch a tent and hang out for a time with the ocean. Well, there it was. Driftwood and skull statues, homemade signs, dogs under the tables, fish cooking on the outdoor grill and a hotel that was really sweet. From the people hanging out, Brenda and I got the scoop on how to make sarandeado sauce and we talked broken Spanish to the barefooted cook told us with a laugh that his name was “chef.” We cruised the hotel, taking photos, and met a family here on vacation with their kids and of course, their Chihuahua pup. Rincon means inside corner, and that is exactly what this place was.
After this manic exploration of a yester-year place, we once again started our engines and single filed down the road to the last stop, the fishing village of Tehuamixtle.
Nestled in a sheltered bay, this fishing village had the guts to mount a huge statue of a Great White shark showing all his teeth right at the entrance to the beach where all the cute little kids were playing. I laughed at this beast, caught an angle of his teeth with the water-blue sky above, and totally appreciated the audacity of a people who would enshrine such a fierce demon on their shores.
All else was calm there, the water currents providing for the oysters being farmed in the bay, the children with water-wings entranced by this big water, the boats tethered like donkeys waiting for work, and the mountains sitting strangely on top of the horizon. Our group landed at La Galleta, (the cookie?) for platters of oysters and fish as two non-fish eaters of our group went off into the village hunting for hamburgers.
The oysters are sold by the platter full, at 160 pesos for a very large platter of 12 to 18, depending on oyster sizes. I can’t imagine one person eating a whole platter but one of our group managed without any hint of a problem. These are the freshest oysters you can buy, coming straight from the ocean. Of course, now the oysters are cheaper in Vallarta, but who cares, when you are going to the “source?”
We finally regrouped and it was time to head on back to El Tuito. I wanted to learn to drive the ATV, so Kammy gave me instructions and we headed out.
After a while I felt like I was getting the hang of it. Watching the speed of the people in front of me, I found that you need to go fairly slowly on the turns. After about a half an hour, I decided that this these beasts are pretty tiring, especially after a cerveza and oyster meal and I figured that at the next rest stop I would ask Rick to drive the rest of the way.
About ten minutes later, after losing sight of the people in front of us, we were going into a turn and I realized that I was taking it too fast. At this point, I panicked and accelerated instead of braking.
Well, the bike flipped and we landed underneath it. Right behind us were Kammy and Alex, who immediately started dealing with the situation. Rick asked me if I was ok and I said yes and I asked him how he was doing. He was as good as ever. Alex checked our positions under the ATV, then lifted it, and we scrambled out from under it.
Kammy and Alex were very good in this situation, checking to see how we were doing, seeing if we needed anything from the medical kit and giving advice and reassurance. Within minutes Gary, who was at the head of the tour, showed up and once we decided we could ride with our cuts and bruises, we got back on and drove a little more slowly back to El Tuito.
It was a long day, but, aside from the bruising and embarrassment from the accident, it had been a fascinating trip. The aptly named Unique Tours really does offer something different (except for those who wreck) from the usual extreme sport aura of the ATV. This tour went beyond the everyday tourist script and offered a kind of laid-back, flexible path through a truer part of Mexico. It was more about the exploration than it was about the ride.
Gary tells you a little of what is there, listens to hear what you might be intrigued with, and lets you go exploring. I always think that a good tour is one that leads you to dream of some day going back to take up where you left off, and this one did that for me.