Improving Yourself in Puerto Vallarta

mexican mural
Puerto Vallarta explodes with love and colors.

We spent a month in Puerto Vallarta, and the theme of the month was to improve ourselves by volunteering, going to the doctor, and taking Spanish classes. I share our tips for finding volunteering gigs in Puerto Vallarta, locating the perfect doc (and examples of expenses) in Puerto Vallarta, finding medical care in Puerto Vallarta, getting massages in Puerto Vallarta, getting physical therapy in Puerto Vallarta, getting a haircut in Puerto Vallarta, and taking Spanish classes in Puerto Vallarta.

But first, I set the scene for learning a bit about Spanish language and culture. Hang with me through the language story; at the end, I share tips you’ll need for improving yourself in Puerto Vallarta.

The Millionth Spanish Class

As I sat in my millionth Spanish class and probably my thousandth Spanish class covering reflexives verbs, I kept remembering something my Spanish teacher in my High School AP Spanish class said over and over. “Mexicans love their reflexive verbs. If you can make it reflexive, do so.”

Prior to getting to Vallarta, I could barely bend my knee and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to walk the beach!

On that day, as the overhead fans tried to drown out the reconstruction of the bridge through centro Puerto Vallarta, I learned more about Mexican culture than studying it practically my entire life. I began learning Spanish in primary school when my teacher advised me I had been speaking Spanish my whole life. I had grown up on a street called Via Valle Verde where you turned off of Via de la Valle in a town called Del Mar in San Diego just north of Mexico eating tacos, burritos, and carne asada as often as eating hamburgers, pizza and French fries.

In high school, Spanish classes rolled through my standard curriculum just like History and Math, and college fetched me a minor in Spanish Literature. Yet, despite waxing and waning through fluency and idiocy while speaking Spanish, today’s class sparked a conversation which retuned me. I stumbled into a concept that Americans love, splashing gravy all over it and eating it up with biscuits, but Mexicans would never dare to own.

Reflexing onto Myself

The fans droned, and the hammers slammed. We worked through the reflexive verbs again, focusing on their innuendos. In English we have reflexive verbs, but we seldom use them. Reflexive verbs are action words that also require a person to do the action on. Think of verbs where you would use the word “yourself” or “myself” with. English examples include “I cleaned myself off with soap.” In this case, the verb, to clean, becomes reflexive with these us of “myself.” English speakers could say, ” I cleaned off with soap” and the sentence would still make sense but might not necessarily imply that you cleaned *your body* off with soap.

pelicans catch fish
Good language skills allow you to speak with the locals!

In Spanish, Mexicans love to use reflexive verbs became it removes themselves from the responsibility of the verb, causing an indirect action. The reflexive verb that English speakers often learn first in Spanish is aburrirse . Translated, this verb means “to bore.” But Spanish speakers use the verb in a way that confuses beginning Spanish speakers yet makes perfect since to Spanish natives. Consistent with the culture of indirectness, Spanish speakers never do anything to themselves; rather, things are done to them. Thus, in Spanish, Mexicans construct sentences about things happening to them rather then they doing things. A sentence using the verb aburrirse  such as Me aburre la clase translates as Class bores me but it’s the way to say Im bored in class.

Which brings me to the verb mejorar.

Mejorar means to improve. It acts normally in Spanish like it does in English. You might say something like “I improve my Spanish every day” or “Yo mejoro el español cada dia.” So this day in class, we were talking about reflexives, and I decided to say in conversation that one of the things I’ve loved about living in Puerto Vallarta is that everyday I’ve gotten the chance to improve myself. When I got to the “improve myself” part of my sentence, I took the mejorar verb and made it reflexive. “…yo me mejoro que…”

And the bridge reconstruction stopped. And the fans stalled. And my teacher gasped. And everyone looked at me like, “What? Qué? What? Qué?” Apparently I had stumbled into a phrase that simply doesn’t exist in Spanish. There’s no such thing as “improving oneself” from a grammarian point of view. Since Mexicans think indirectly, they simply can’t wrap their language around the idea of self-improvement. Besides, what exactly *is* self-improvement? It’s improving language, or strength, or personality or a house, a job, or a design, but it’s simply not one’s self.

Yet through another mistake in speaking Spanish, I learned about how to improve myself by trying to improve myself: you can’t mejorarse in español.

Taking Spanish Classes in Puerto Vallarta

At $5 a class, our Spanish lessons paid off at La Casa de Amistad.

If you want to take some Spanish classes in Puerto Vallarta, we adored The International Friendship Club. They have Spanish classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Spanish classes have the following schedule (click for updates here):

9:00-10:00 Intermediate I

10:10-11:10 Intermediate II

11:20-12:20 Advanced

12:30-1:30 Basic / Beginner

Single Tickets (Member or Non Member) cost $100 pesos. By the way, Google has no idea where this place is. Don’t follow Google maps to find it. Either call ahead, or google the HSBC, which is in the first floor of the building. The Friendship Club, or Casa de Amistad, is on the second floor, overlooking the river, above the HSBC at Plaza Caracol, Km 2.5, México 200, Díaz Ordaz, 48333 Puerto Vallarta, Jal.

We loved our Spanish classes here so much, we also joined the weekly house tour, a major fundraiser for the club.

Volunteering in Puerto Vallarta

Helping a niña use her language skills while playing Legos.

With our better language skills, Steve and I wanted to embed in the community and volunteer. What better way to practice the language and learn the culture than through volunteering? Fortunately, down the street from our artsy Airbnb, we found a non-profit organization called Vallarta Abuelos. This group provides a safe place for children after school, scholarships for children to go to school, and all around social work for kids that simply don’t have dreams.

We arrived one afternoon to help troubleshoot the computer lab, teach kids to type, and help kids with their language skills. While Steve learned the word for “home row” in Spanish typing class, I played Barbies and Legos, asking my playmates to use their Spanish language skills to tell me stories about what they were building. As the Director mentioned, my new friends have no adults at home to chat with, and their language skills were weak.

The next weekend, Vallarta Abuelos had twenty elves gathered to stuff Christmas bags with donated toys. Although they had plenty of donated toys, candies, and games, what they needed most was labor and organization skills. If you’ve got either or both, drop on in to see how you can lend a hand in Puerto Vallarta. They even put us to work at a holiday market collecting money and making change! Who knew we’d learn our numbers via counting money?

Seeing Doctors and Getting Physical Therapy in Puerto Vallarta

My knee cracked and moaned on the way into Puerto Vallarta. Although it had begun crying over a year ago, its real scream occurred in an exercise class in England. I knew the time had come to get a diagnosis and treatment at whatever cost. Limping and stumbling my way around the world had tempered even Steve, the most patient person in the world. I did some googling and some research on Facebook to find a knee doctor who was not only highly recommended and who spoke English, but who would be able to see me and treat me within the month.

Finding a Knee Doctor in Puerto Vallarta

Dr Rosas’ white, orthopedic surgeon horse (joking) parked outside of the hospital, and he came in shining like the magical knight I needed. He diagnosed my pain (osteoporosis), the damage (scarred meniscus and deteriorated cartilage), and my patience (treatment or surgery.) I got x-rays, an MRI, and a hyaluronic acid shot and a prescription for a course of physical therapy. Dr Rosa’s total bill came to $800 including the MRI and the shot. I hobbled out of his office a few hours later, feeling 100% better than when I went in.

hylarounic acid viles
Hyaluronic acid shots are quite affordable in Mexico

You can reach Dr David Rosas via email at [email protected] or on WhatsApp at +52 552 909 2102. Don’t let the hotmail address dissuade you. He’s legit, Harvard educated, and impressive. He practices out of Hospital Joya.

Getting Physical Therapy in Puerto Vallarta

physio therapy sign
Physio Vallarta provided the PT I needed.

At Physical Therapy, I met my second knight in shinning armor, Adrian at Physio Vallarta, who put me through heat baths, massages, electrotherapy and exercises. Within two weeks, I went from pain to none. My knee flexibility improved 97%, my leg (which I could not straighten when I arrived) went from 85% straight to 99%, and my quads started to reverse their atrophy. Each session at $22 per hour improved on the previous one. I feel like I’m 15 again and ready to hike.

Getting Massages in Puerto Vallarta

I’ve been a massage junkie for years, but Steve, on the other hand, had never really fallen in love with them. He’d tolerate them at best. Convinced I could change his mind, I scheduled us for an at-home massage with a massage therapist I found on line. She arrived on time with her massage table and went to work on both of us. Neither one of us had realized how much lugging our bags and carrying our back packs over the last three months had taken their tolls.

massage tables on beach
It’s easy to find cheap massages on the beach in Sayulita and Vallarta.

When she touched my back, I melted. An hour flew by. Steve followed. He wanted to book her again right away. Thus, we learned that Steve had never had a good massage, and now, I had turned him into a massage junkie, too. Not only did we indulge in at-home massages in Puerto Vallarta, but we also indulged whenever massage therapist came across our paths. We found them frequently at the beach, in Sayulita, and along the malecón. Beach massages, which we adored as well, ran from $17 and our at-home massage cost $35. Don’t forget to tip these hard-working miracle workers.

If you want to reach Matilda, our at-home massage therapist, you can find her on WhatsApp. Reach her at +52 322 140 5945.

Getting Dental Work in Puerto Vallarta

Religiously getting our teeth cleaned every six months, we planned for our semi-annual cleaning in Puerto Vallarta. With so many good options to pick from where every dentist in town seems to cater to English-speaking ex-pats, we picked a dentist with an eye toward needing more dental work. We paid $40 each for very thorough teeth cleanings, and Steve signed up for some additional dental work with White Smiles Studio.

mexican dental office
High-tech dentists abound in Vallarta.

Although Steve thought he’d need an implant at $2500, the dentist modified his original assessment and fashioned a tooth repair instead at $1000. After going through three consultations and three different dentists, Steve was thrilled with the work at White Smiles.

Getting Annual Female Wellness Exam in Puerto Vallarta

Our international medical insurance includes annual wellness exams, and for me, that also includes the annual female exam of a pap smear. Since we have no plans to go to the US this year, nor to return to Denver to my regular OB/Gyn, I sought out a new gynecologist in Puerto Vallarta for my woman’s annual wellness exam.

I made the appointment and walked into the doctor’s office. I expected what I’d expect in the US–a receptionist, a waiting room, a nurse to check me in, a doctor’s office, an exam, and a wait for results. Instead, I walked into the office to be greeted by the Doctora Sarita. She asked a few admin questions, then I hopped onto the exam table.

We started with a breast exam with optional mammogram. Since I wasn’t due for my mammogram, I passed. Next, she did her visual exam and swabbed me for the pap smear. Finally, she did a sonogram to look at my ovaries. I paid $45 for the entire exam and got my pap smear results via email 24 hours later.

I recommend Dra Sarita Zartuche, and you can reach her in WhatsApp at +52 322271 8383. Also, don’t let the low-tech website fool you. Her office had the latest technology you need for your gynological exam.

Getting a Styled Haircut in Puerto Vallarta

handsome 54 year old woman
I got maybe the best haircut of my life in Puerto Vallarta!

Last on our self-improvement stay in Puerta Vallarta, I wanted a good haircut. My long gray locks mixed with the sweat on the back of my neck causing misery. But thick hair does not make good friends with stylists. It’s tough for me to not only get a good cut but to find someone to cut my forest of hair. Thanks to an expat friend I made while in Puerto Vallarta whom I met through the Go With Less Facebook group, Eden recommend a gal in the Romantic Zone in Puerto Vallarta.

Hesitantly, I made the appointment via WhatsApp, and arrived with skepticism and pictures. My attitude about hair has always been to try anything. It will always grow back. So, I bravely showed Adriana at Votre Salón the pictures of the new do I wanted to try. An hour later, I walked out of the salon to meet Steve in the park. In the two blocks that I walked, three strangers stopped me in the street to comment on my hair and its cut. If that doesn’t give prove it’s a great cut, I’m not sure what does!

Reach Adriana at Votre Salón or on WhatsApp at +52 322 135 0499.

Eating Vegan Food in Puerto Vallarta

There’s no matter way to improve the world’s health than by eating a vegan diet, we believe. This wouldn’t be an EatWalkLearn blog post if we didn’t talk about our attempts to eat vegan food in Puerto Vallarta. Our frequent trips to the puestos, or stands, for our meals brought us to flavors and combinations we love in Mexican food, including fabulous fresh jugos verdes (green juices) in the morning. Sadly, many times the “vegan” choice had not only cheese, but beans made with lard and eggs fried in bacon grease. You win some, you lose some.

Happily, though we found several vegan/vegetarian places included Planeta Vegetariano where we ate our Thanksgiving dinner of tofu in mole sauce with sides of creamy rajas. We also found a delightful vegan place tucked inside a pool hall right around the corner from the house. I pigged out on a pasta with marinated portobello, and Steve chowed down on a homemade vegan patty of black beans and bulgar at Sin Karma. Finally, our favorite vegetarian outing near the Romantic Zone resulted in quesadillas de rajas at Pellizcadas where we dined to absolute fullness for $3.50 total, including appetizers!

Improving Yourself in Puerto Vallarta

Be sure to take time to enjoy all that Puerto Vallarta has to offer.

After a month of living in Puerto Vallarta, we volunteered three times, took seven Spanish classes, saw three doctors, had seven hours of physical therapy, and got one hair cut. Did we improve ourselves? We think so. Granted, we didn’t nos mejoramos, but we certainly left Puerto Vallarta feeling like we not only got to know more about the town and its community, but we also gave back through friendships and dollars, too. Not once did we visit an American store, always choosing local family businesses instead, and we believe we left the place better than we found it and ourselves. We hope you’ll give back to Puerto Vallarta, too, when you visit. Please feel free to ask us details about any of our doctors and our visits.

4 Comments

  1. Linda Thompson

    Glad to see you made it to Sayulita…my daughter got married there March of 2012 on the beach with a reception under the palapa…110 guests joined us…what an honor for them…hope you made it to Choco Banana

    Reply
    • EatWalkLearn

      I bet there was no one in Sauyita in 2012…seems like it’s having a growth spurt. I bet the wedding was gorgeous!

      Reply
  2. Kirsten Pihlaja

    Where to next?

    Reply
    • EatWalkLearn

      We’re in Mexico for the winter. Currently in the Yucatan, then back to Mex City to see the butterflies, museum, SMDA, and Guanajuanto!

      Reply

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handsome hiking couple

Chris and Steve, the empty-nesting nomads, travel the world, one month at a time, housesitting and Airbnbing along the way. We uncover urban walks, great hikes, and vegan/vegetarian eats that other guide books miss. And we throw in a bit about Forex trading along the way.

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