Deborah Rath Howell
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The Voice of Rath

Casa Piedra Blanca (TTT Property #T2545) - Punta Mita, Mexico

I awaken in magnificent Casa Piedra Blanca. I'm here with Trade To Travel owner Leah Powell, and our plan is to enjoy the luxury villa this morning and then later on see some of Puerto Vallarta and its "Malecon"-a grand pedestrian seaside mall teeming with small artisan shops, vendors, eateries and entertainers.

Casa Piedra Blanca owners Pedro and Isabel Martinez are the most marvelous hosts. Through them we've not only learned a great deal about the history of this very special home and its art collection, but also about the surrounding area and the state of Mexican politics, which is entering a new era on the world stage. Air arrivals by US tourists to Mexico are also up by 5% in the first five months of 2012, and Mexico continues to be the number one international destination for US travelers, taking a 19% slice of the US's outbound tourism pie. But that pales in comparison to other countries: Russian tourism to Mexico is up 73%, Brazil is up 65%, China is up 32%, Columbia is up 21% and Japan is up almost 19%. The world has once again fallen in love with Mexico-- and with good reason, as we're about to find out.

Yesterday Pedro picked us up from the airport and as we drove the 23 minutes to Casa Piedra Blanca, he told us a little about Puerto Vallarta. It's the kind of place where Bill Gates rents a yacht for a week (at the cost of 250 million Euros) and cruises up and down the coastline checking out the beaches and the land and then plunks down a deposit on 2000 acres in order to build a small beach community.

It's the kind of place where the elite have cocktails with Tim Koogle of Yahoo at his palatial estate after he completes the purchase of a 20 million dollar parcel of land. Now, before you go judging these two guys and other entrepreneurs like them, consider what it means to the people who live here.

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
Yes, both men will profit from their investments in Puerto Vallarta, but the jobs that are created in and around these new communities mean the world to many native Mexicans. The local sentiment is that of gratitude and welcome to these entrepreneurs for placing their trust and their investments in Mexico so they can take advantage of these new opportunities to find work and to feel great pride in their corner of the world.

Puerto Vallarta is situated beautifully in the lush region of Nayarit, astride beautiful Banderas Bay-- the second largest bay in the world after San Diego's. Within this enormous bay are smaller bays which are lovely because these natural land formations protect swimmers, water skiers and kayakers from the largest waves; creating a perfect place for a calm swim, stand-up paddle or just a lazy float in an inner tube-something we plan to do a lot of while staying here.

The setting is tropical and sultry, with a good amount of moisture in the air which feels so wonderful on my parched California skin. That tropical feeling is mightily apparent when we tuck into our first meal at the villa. Our lunch and dinner served by the modest and magnificent Chef Pepe is laden with impossibly juicy, tasty local pineapple, grapefruit, the plumpest of grapes, and most certainly the best mangos Leah and I have ever tasted-served with a dash of chili tajin on top to make the flavor pop. Exquisite!

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
We dine with the glass doors open; the ocean breeze delighting our senses and heightening the culinary experience. Paired with a delicious red reserve Pedro has found in town, the meal instantly relaxes us and puts us on Mexican Time-a very good thing indeed when one is on vacation. The post-dinner flan is flawless, and we have to sit on our hands so we don't devour the entire platter.

Casa Piedra Blanca was designed and built by Pedro and Isabel 8 years ago under the direction of the talented and celebrated architect Manuel Mestre. Every detail is carefully thought out, from the enormous, dramatic beams in the dining room which weigh 5 tons apiece down to the tiny black pebbles in the decorative stone carpets that adorn each room and give the house such an inviting personality. Stunning local artwork adorns the walls, and colorful Japanese koi swim happily in their pond tucked into the tropical landscaped patio. Spectacular views of the Pacific can be enjoyed from nearly every room in this stunning 13,000 square foot beachfront home.

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
Guests will be delighted with the privacy factor throughout the villa. One need never run across another family member if you don't want to! Private balconies overlooking the sea accompany all the bedrooms, and there are numerous cozy seating areas near the 1600 square foot infinity pool for lounging, perfecting your tan, reading a good book, or just closing your eyes and listening to the whisper of the waves below.

And if those areas aren't sufficient enough for you, there's always the beach club just steps away. Set on a private stretch of golden sand, it's a place where you can have a meal or a drink or a game of ping pong between dips in the ocean. I chanced upon an amazing prehistoric iguana the first time down the steps to the beach, and Leah remarked that instead of guard dogs, in Mexico they have iguanas named "Il Guardo" that hang out and protect the homes. And you don't even have to feed them! Such a deal.

The caring staff at the beach club will set you up with a morning or afternoon sail, a kayak, boogie board or a snorkeling sojourn. Chaise lounges are wide and extremely comfortable, and are dotted around two pretty pools. There's an inside seating lounge if you'd like to play board games or watch a tennis match, and an outside lounge as well. Think of it as your own extra-extra large beach cabana. Order a margarita and you're all set! You can also order full meal service at the club, dining leisurely under the palms.

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
I must mention something about this ocean experience. Never have I been anywhere where the access to a fabulous swim has been easier. The sand is as soft as powdered sugar as you walk into the sea-no shells to hurt your tootsies-and there's no huge drop off where the water gets deeper, just a gradual velvety walk straight into the ocean. The waves are gentle; once you've taken ten steps, you're swimming. It's simply divine. The water temp is absolutely perfect so there's no shock to the system. Leah and I stay in for over an hour and only begrudgingly come to shore because we don't want to chance a sunburn on our first day. Really an incredible swimming experience, and one I will miss dearly when back in Los Angeles. We swim, rinse, and repeat many times a day until we're brown as beans.

Athletes, rejoice. Punta Mita is also a golfer's paradise. Take your pick of many expertly designed signature courses close to the villa. Or, charter a large sailboat at the nearby marina, which recently hosted a major international boat show and is soon to be a destination in its own right as plans for an ambitious new residential, shopping, and recreational communities are completed.

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
23 seconds by car or three minutes by foot you'll find a gym, a spa and tennis courts at your disposal. Cold purified water and towels are on hand at the gym, as well as a nice assortment of top of the line workout equipment and an area for yoga, Pilates or floor work with mats available. I had a lovely workout with a gorgeous view of local flora and fauna out the floor to ceiling windows. Time did not permit a trip to the spa, but I walked through it and it looked ever so alluring. Next time!

Chartered sailboat cruises are a phone call away, as are scuba trips, waterskiing, stand-up paddling and kayaking-so never fear-you can easily burn off all the fabulous food Pepe and Marta will prepare for you while staying at the casa.

A trip or two into Puerto Vallarta's Malecon is an absolute must. Stroll along this landscaped pedestrian mall and take in the local color while watching the fiery orange sun melt into the golden sea. Discover treasures from local artisans in the small shops and delicious treats from the street vendors. Take a photo with some of the local artists dressed as angels, aliens and superheroes.

The most amazing artisan of all used only boulders from the beach to build his masterpieces. Using "help from above", he somehow managed to balance large boulders on top of tiny ones to create stone sculptures that were astonishingly beautiful. His work resembles small cairns you sometimes see on hiking trails--only his cairns are taller than he is. It sometimes takes 15 minutes or longer to find just the perfect position for each boulder, and the suspense mounts as the crowd gathers and holds its collective breath until finally the next boulder is balanced. Truly mesmerizing!

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
Isabel, Leah and I fell in love with one shop called Myskova Beach Boutique and also loved Lupita and Raquel who work there. They suggested "looks" and colors for all three of us and within minutes we'd each found a perfect beach dress, head bands that made us look like flappers and sweater shrugs to wear on top. "These dresses want to travel!" exclaimed Isabel, and she is so correct. The dresses are wrinkle-proof and colorful and want to take us around the world. And hopefully they shall!

Leah and I had such a great time in Puerto Vallarta proper that we decided to return on Friday night. Locals and tourists alike were soaking up the flavors of the night and enjoying themselves to the max along the Malecon. Many were dancing the tango in the public square to music from a band dressed in white from head to toe. (We marveled at how well the women could do all their dance steps in heels on cobblestones without turning an ankle. Not something either Leah or I would dare attempt.) Then we did a bit of shopping for gifts and then found a nice table on the top floor of a local Mexican restaurant open to the sea breeze. As always, the service was warm and efficient and the portions generous and delicious.

We walked off our chimichangas by the ocean and enjoyed the pounding music from the Zoo discotheque from afar, marveling how safe and relaxed we felt. Parents carried their young children on their shoulders and some tots saw their first fireworks and shouted in delight--just a beautiful thing to witness. Had we not been so full from dinner, we would have sampled the sweet-smelling "elotes"-corn-that vendors sell on the street corners. Deliciosa! We slept like babies that night with the lovely sound of the waves caressing us.

The next morning was all about Wimbledon. If you're a movie or sports buff, you can catch a tennis match or a favorite film in the comfy media room, complete with leather theatre seating. This is also a great place to catch up on emails or send vacation photos to friends. We were sad to watch Nadal go down in defeat, but were rallied by the absolutely incredible lunch Pepe had prepared for us. Phenomenal red and yellow pepper soup laced with garlic (Isabel's recipe) followed by a delicious whitefish and potato hash with grilled asparagus. To die for!

Punta Mita, Mexico, Property #T2545
Casa Piedra Blanca, Punta Mita, Mexico, T1228
We love all the activities here, but the piece de resistance is our late night swim in the infinity pool. It has some magical magnetic property that draws us to it every night. A glorious thing it is to take a glassy glide under the midnight moon with a dear friend. We drape ourselves over the edge and sigh with pleasure, watching the waves crash onto the shore below. They glow bright white with the double force of the moon and the elegant landscape lighting provided by the beach club. We can't take our eyes off them.

On our last morning Leah and I enjoy our final fantastic breakfast a la Pepe (honestly, this man can COOK!) and then peel off for the perfectly raked beach. Most of the days here have been sunny, but today grey skies shelter our newly-bronzed bodies as we swim, feasting our eyes on the mountains covered in cotton candy clouds. We have the entire beach and bay to ourselves. It's the very essence of being at one with nature. Eventually a skiff scoots by, trailed by dozens of scissor-tailed albatross that appear out of nowhere. We recall the sight of young boys jumping off the top of the twin rocks into the ocean and we smile. These images will remain with us forever, and our single regret is that we can't stay longer.

A friend of mine recently told me about the "two wings of happiness" that help her soar through life. Her way of achieving both wings is to elevate her spirit by blending an eastern philosophy with her western faith.

Our suggestion to you is to bring one wing of happiness with you to Real Del Mar and find your matching, twin wing among the twin rocks at Casa Piedra Blanca.

Thanks forever to our glorious hosts, Pedro and Isabel Martinez, and to Pepe, Maribel and Marta for taking such excellent care of us during our stay.

Until next time, from magnificent Mexico, "Hasta Pronto!" and happy travels to you.