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Puerto Vallarta

Last time in Puerto Vallarta, my friends got so happy on margaritas that the city finally became known as BARTA BARTA! That's as close as our tongues could get.

The women at Senor Frogs communicated strictly by whistle and cornered us with shots of tequila. After three shots, you were allowed to wipe your mouth on their endowments.

What do you think inspired James Taylor to write a song to Mexico without ever having been there...

"Oooh, Mexico. I've never really been, but I'd sure like to go."

This time I ended up on Vallarta Adventures' "Jeep Safari," which takes hopelessly white people into the Sierra Madre jungle to be devoured by arthropods.

Our leader, JC, stood as tall as Charlie Manson but was considerably more funny. From the hood of the truck JC waved a make-believe cattle prod:

"Come on, amigos. MOOOOve."

En route to Jurassic Park, he held pop quizzes on Mexican history. Did you know that the Mayan calendar is printed on pesos and, if you collect three thousand of them, they add up to a dollar?

Sometimes JC shouted "LEFT" or "RIGHT" to cue us -- left or right row -- to duck the oncoming trees. When he yelled, "TEQUILA," everyone hit the floor.

Our escort boasted of eating 15 tortillas per day and showed us his belly, where he stored them. The man was happy with himself in a way that made religion unnecessary.

"Los Sierra Madres," he said, "es named for its rasor-like edge ... TEQUILA!"

Everyone hit the floor.

At the trailhead, JC spotted a Land-of-the-Lost-sized spider web. We gathered around at a safe, gringo distance.

"Es el golden silk spider," he said. "And watch thees."

He tossed onto the web a cigarette butt, which the spider pounced on and, having cleaned its trap, dropped the debris into JC's hand. He turned around with a big Cheshire Cat smile.

"The web es so strong that locals use eet for feeshing nets."

JC danced back and forth across a creek, explaining how everything worked. These cacti have no needles because they are not in danger... Those fire ants create tunnels inside the trees themselves... Dragonflies mate the same way space shuttles are refueled (we crowded in for this one).

Our tour guide found a garter snake, which he wrapped around his neck like a scarf, prompting my neighbor, Sally, to scream and pull my hair.

"There es 700 species of snakes in Mehico, and only four es poisonous. How lucky we found one."

Moments later, I stepped in duker left behind by a Brahman deer. Brahman come from India, where they are idolized by certain Hindu sects. In other words, I had stepped in holy shhhh -- JC had spotted a chameleon, which, when sensing danger, rolls over and plays dead. Like the French.

JC held the lizard in his palm, then popped it in his mouth like a peanut.

"Taste like cheecken."

JC spat out the lizard, which darted away to tell its far-fetched story of abduction.

Our pudgy leader gasped at a hoof print in the mud.

"El Chupacabra," he whispered with big eyes. "It sucks el blood of goats and humans."

At which point JC's assistant leapt out from behind a tree, prompting Sally to smack me in the head. So it goes.

JC laughed and laughed until he noticed a centipede and, to everyone's surprise, did not put it in his mouth. This was the "worm" bottled with tequila as a promotional stunt by manufacturers.

"The hallucination," said JC, "es all in your head."

On the Way Home

JC fetched a bottle of Las Trancas tequila (literal translation: "pain-go-bye-bye juice") and, after sacrificing a squirt to the gods, poured a cup for everyone. IN THE BACK OF A MOVING JEEP.

JC insisted on five-second shots -- the amount he could pour in that time: "One one thou-seeeeeen, two one thou-seeeeen... Where was I?..."

I asked for half a cup, so JC filled it to the brim, claiming that I didn't specify which half.

Then he rose to his full five-foot-six and thrust his cup into the circle. "Al centro!" And we answered: "Al centro!" "Abaja!" "Abaja!" "Arriba!" "Arriba!"

And together we drank the pride of this great nation.

I myself am not a tequila guy. I tend to distrust any beverage that smells like paint thinner. After two margaritas, I can't even read a menu but have to order by photograph. Long live Denny's.

A policeman pulled up behind us, and JC panicked. He gathered our cups, stuffed the cooler beneath the seats, and asked if we all had our passports. When Sally started to hyperventilate, JC laughed and waved the officer on. Silly gringos.

Out of tequila, we sobered up by drinking beer. According to JC, women drink Corona, men drink Pacifico, and only tourists ask for lime.

The trees continued to smack us in the head, but no one seemed to care. Slowly but surely we slipped into Mariachi Mode, where time does not exist, where you are free from gravity itself. I could see why James Taylor would want to come here. Someday.

Our group stumbled out of the Jeep thanking JC in twenty-dollar bills and counting the days until we finally returned to BARTA BARTA!


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