Last week I had a craving for a bao sandwich. If you’ve never had one, you really should. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that bao rhymes with wow. There’s something about that pillowy, soft steamed bread wrapped around a deliciously marinated slice of tofu that I can never quite get out of my head, especially when I am on holiday and not required to think about anything other than food.
And I had options. Bonito Kitchen was having a special on bao (and anything is incredibly special at Bonito Kitchen even on a regular day), so I could have happily gone out of my way to stop there. However, I found myself in Versalles on another errand so I headed to Budaixi, a great little Taiwanese place on Hamburgo.
As I waited at the counter for my order, a wonderful guy stopped me and let me know that he enjoyed reading my column each week in the Tribune, telling me that the articles about family life in Puerto Vallarta always made him smile. We had a little chat, at the end of which he encouraged me to keep writing. I walked out not only with one of the best meals in town, but with a boost to my self-esteem. I love this!
And truly, there are so many obvious things that make Puerto Vallarta such a fantastic place. You get your first taste of it when you come down on vacation. You can shake a pineapple in any direction and you will hit a beach, or a jungle, or a surprised local who won’t even be upset about being hit with a spiky fruit.
The hotels are gorgeous and there are more things to do than there are paid days in your vacation time. There are wonderful companies that can help tourists check off every item on their bucket list (whale watching; check! Zip-lining; check! Best margarita ever; check!). On top of it all your dollars, so timid and shrunken at home, are having a blast being stretched so far. Let’s face it: visit Puerto Vallarta once, and you’ll spend most of your days dreaming about the day you get to return.
Maybe you finally decide that simply visiting is not enough, because you can’t imagine leaving this incredible place of palm trees and happiness in a glass called a Pina Colada. You sell it all and move down, renting a place near the beach. And it’s great at first because it’s sort of like a vacation, except it’s permanent.
But then some of those initial feelings of elation fade just a bit, because now there are legal documents to take care of, and you have to figure out how to make sure your car is legal, and you get stung by jellyfish at least once. There are lines in immigration that last for days, particularly because you can’t imagine all the paperwork from your past that is actually required. Your kids are being kids even when you ask them not to for just a second, and it all seems overwhelming. Like maybe you made a huge mistake, and you should have left the margarita dreams for your yearly holiday.
I know this because I have been there. If you’re new here and you’ve decided this is your home, I can’t tell you with a clean conscience that all of those feelings go away. I can tell you that once you find your rhythm in your new life, you are going to go out and find a little restaurant (probably Budaixi, but it could be any of a multitude) that serves something that tastes like pure, pillowy happiness. It will become that place you go to when you’ve just had to renew your driver’s license, you’ve stepped on a pufferfish or you just need a taste of something amazing. When you get there, you will find people who recognize you. They may even tell you something that makes your day.
You’ll walk out with some comfort food and a big smile. And you’ll be reminded, as you often are, that you are home.