Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Summer/Fall 2008 issue.
It’s not that I don’t love working in an office enveloped in artificial light, but as a free spirit and fun-loving, outdoorsy kind of girl, I’m always ager for an adventure that takes me out of the office and into the sunshine — all in the name of research, of course!
Sea lions have fascinated me since my childhood, their cute dog-like faces and antics reminding me of a seafaring golden retriever. But my first face-to-whiskered-face encounter with these playful pinnipeds would be on an excursion to beautiful Las Caletas. So, I was showered and dressed well before my alarm went off that morning.
At the Maritime Terminal, the staff from Vallarta Adventures was efficient and friendly, answering questions and directing guests to the shaded waiting area before escorting us to the catamaran for the 9 am departure. The crew was welcoming and brimming with energy, and before we had sailed out of the marina, a lovely light breakfast of sweet bread, fruit, juice and coffee was served.
Sailing south along the coast, our cruise director introduced the crew. These high-spirited fellows demonstrated their dancing prowess, much to the delight of female passengers, setting the tone for a fun and memorable day.
A few minutes later, we stopped near Los Arcos National Marine Park and learned about this unique ecosystem before proceeding down the coast toward Mismaloya. In front of the historic cliff side movie set of the Night of the Iguana, we paused for a brief look and to receive guests from the hotel at Mismaloya, brought to the catamaran via a motorized inflatable boat.
By 10:30, we had reached the tropical paradise known as Las Caletas. Not accessible by car, Las Caletas originally was home to Night of the Iguana director John Huston and now is leased by Vallarta Adventures from the Chacala Indian community. Our group consisted of visitors from Canada, USA and Mexico, including a bride and her maid of honor who were spending the day relaxing with massages and onsite spa treatments in preparation for a Las Caletas wedding that evening. The guests and the remainder of the wedding party were to arrive by sailboat after our departure for a sunset ceremony and beach reception.
On shore, we were given the specifics of the day’s events, my only disappointment being that there was no way I would be able to fit in everything I wanted to experience. Included in the ticket price are snorkeling, sea kayaking, a yoga class under a shady palapa in the jungle, a paella-cooking lesson, a guided nature walk and a bird and monkey encounter. Additionally, there are numerous beach chairs available for
people who just want to kick back and relax in barefoot comfort. Optional activities for an additional fee include massage and other spa treatments, beginner and certified diving, clay modeling and, my reason for being there that day, snorkeling with the sea lions.
After quickly exploring the well-marked pathways and the spacious, stylishly decorated restrooms, I opted to try sea kayaking. The staff provided a helpful “Kayaking 101” briefing, fitted me with a lifejacket, and helped get me on my way quickly. I chose to leave in advance of the guided kayak tour, so I wouldn’t be late for my date with my flippered friend. I found paddling along the shore to be both scenic and relaxing.
A few minutes later, fitted with flippers and lifejackets, five of us swam toward a boat anchored about 30 meters off shore that contained the object of my affections: Litibu, a six-year-old, 159-kg (350-lb) male South American sea lion rescued from Isla de Lobos, Uruguay. His trainer, Julio, uses positive reinforcement training methods, rewarding good behaviors and ignoring the rest. Litibu’s favorite reward is fish, and over the course of a day, he consumes about 10.5 kg (23 lbs)!
On Julio’s command, Litibu exuberantly jumped off the boat and into the water, but I wasn’t sure if it was because he was eager to interact with us or because he knew there’d be lots of fish coming his way, or both. It didn’t matter. Just being so close to this magnificent animal was an amazing experience.
Our encounter with Litibu provided numerous opportunities to interact with him, including scratching his back as if he were a dog, getting a fishy, whiskered kiss on the cheek, watching him jump high out of the water, feeding him a fish, holding onto him while being pulled through the water and, finally, a favorite Vallarta pastime, posing for pictures. At the end, Litibu jumped back into his pen on the deck of the little
boat, ready for his ride back to his home at the Vallarta Adventures Dolphin Center in Nuevo Vallarta.
Exhilarated and starving, I made my way to lunch. The delicious buffet offered numerous freshly prepared choices, including breads, salads, barbecued ribs, potatoes, pasta, guacamole and even steaming hot handmade tortillas. The pastry chef outdid himself, and my decadent glazed chocolate cake tasted like it came from a gourmet bakery. The tables were stocked with pitchers of limonada (limeade), and other refreshments, including bottled water, beer and assorted adult beverages, were available on request. Service was prompt and unobtrusive, equaling that expected in an upscale restaurant on land.
After lunch, I had some time to interact with the parakeets, macaws, cockatoos and a squirrel monkey, and even got close to a beautiful tamed owl perched calmly on the arm of his trainer. Animal encounter experiences will be expanded with the inclusion of a trained falcon in the near future.
All too soon, it was time to board our catamaran and enjoy the fiesta on our way back to Vallarta. It was a full and fabulous day, and even though I hear that Litibu has been kissing other women, I still smile whenever I see our romantic photo and recall our time together, the exhilarating highlight of this unforgettable day in paradise.
Rhythms of the Night is the enchanting evening excursion to Las Caletas. Enjoy a sumptuous candlelit buffet dinner along the shore and follow a torch-lit path to a natural amphitheater in the jungle for a spectacular pre-Hispanic-inspired, professionally choreographed show. This unique experience is perfect for sharing with a loved one, family or friends.
Vallarta Adventures Operations Director Ashley Clarke initiated a companywide recycling and ecology program in 2007. Within the first month, their volume of trash was reduced by an astounding 80%! Numerous aesthetically designed and clearly marked bins for separating trash are located onboard and throughout Las Caletas. Gone are the Styrofoam cups and paper napkins of the past. Beverages are served in reusable plastic glasses, and lunch tables are set with lovely fabric napkins and placemats, as well as real cutlery, all washed and reused. All employees are expected to uphold the company’s commitment to protecting and improving the environment.