You have to put in some effort to get to Verana – the Jalisco hotel can only be reached via a boat from the mainland and a mule ride through the jungle – but we’ve heard that once you’re stretched out in your cotton-draped king-size, looking out at the ocean, it is beyond worth the trip.
As our plane lands in Puerto Vallarta, I look out the window and see a Home Depot. But the hour-long road to our water taxi in Boca outruns the megafranchises, and the half-hour motorboat to Verana claps the stress of real life off us, like sand off a flip-flop.
I'd thought Verana would be just another set of huts peppering the coastline, but as Mrs Smith and I arrive, it becomes clear this isn’t just another one of anything. A collection of nearly a dozen private cabanas, birthed from the minds of Hollywood set designers, Verana lies about 600 feet up a mountain, just outside the fishing town of Yelapa.
Our room is the Palapa, which I believe is Spanish for ‘one of those thatch-roof overhangs from movies where people wear palm fronds to cover their genitals.’
From its frangipani- and bougainvillea-flanked entrance we spy two beds, two enormous sun decks, a hammock – which Mrs Smith tries out immediately – and an open-air shower, which a passer-by on the path above could technically see into if he crouches down enough, but I reason if someone’s willing to contort himself that uncomfortably, he deserves a peek at Mrs Smith’s nipples.
Saying this place has a good view is like saying Steve Jobs had a good little business: the jungle crashing into the bay, the fishing boats moored in the inlet below, the river valley retreating around the bend, and farthest away, fog eliminating the border between sea and sky. It’s the view I’d expect in a screen saver – not from my hotel room.
Eager to explore, we hit the bar, where we find a cluster of couples from all over the States and Mexico. Together, we toast this escape and order delightful concoctions created by the friendly nomadic American mixologist, Danny, whose travels had taken him everywhere, including swanky LA cantina Malo, where he designed the drink menu. Dinner is beef, which pleases Mrs Smith, and wine is by the bottle, which pleases everybody.
Drunkenly stumbling up the stone steps to our bed, I gesture to where the staff has tucked in the mosquito netting, and convince Mrs Smith to mate with me before we drift off to sleep in the warm jungle air, to the jungle's birdsong.
At 4.30am, a crazed three-year-old girl shakes me awake, shouting ‘It’s here! AND IT’S ENORMOUS!’ The girl, it turns out, is an atypically frenzied Mrs Smith. And ‘it’, which now scampering into the darkness, is a coatimundi, a docile cousin of the raccoon, which has sneaked into our room looking for candy. ‘It’s a cat-dog! Make it die or something!’ I knew we were never in danger, but there will definitely be no sleeping after this, so we wait it out until sun-up, streaming comedy shows, courtesy of Verana’s complimentary WiFi.
First the sun comes, then the daily coffee and muffin delivery, and, finally, we emerge for Verana’s outlandish Mexican breakfast, which includes their take on chilaquiles (breakfast nachos) with optional face-melting habanero salsa, and delicate, delectable queso Chihuahua, which comes from the region, not the dog.
While many resorts push activities on you – and though Verana offers a literal menu of escorted tours and spa treatments – Danny seems just as comfortable suggesting destinations and letting us get to it ourselves. After a dip at a secluded beach off the path to town, we hit Yelapa, a town of folksy vacation rentals and rundown shacks, holding no more than a thousand people, and dozens of lethargic stray dogs, cats and sunbathing rock iguanas.
Our destination is Angelina’s, a cantina Danny recommended at the end of a line of beachside shacks. There, we meet a crew of international transplants including a Canadian mom and her brood, a hula-hooping hippie whose parents started Studio 54 and a bartendress whose golden tan might as well have been a tattoo reading: ‘No way in hell am I going back to Sweden.’ They prepare for the town’s St Patrick’s Day party as we eat impossibly fresh fish tacos and sip raicilla, the local agave moonshine, which ferments in underground ovens to infuse an unmistakable smokiness. Is it good? If you like swallowing a campfire. Is it strong? It put hairs on the hair on my chest.
Bellies full, we head home. If there were ever a place built to help you recover from a drunken hike up a mountain, it's Verana’s jungle spa, with its Watsu pool, aromatic soaking tubs and full-body couples’ massages. They offer everything from reflexology to hot rocks. I already knew this place was paradise, but now they are literally rubbing it in.
At dinner we meet an old friend: the monster that visited us in the night is really the resort’s mascot, Avocado, currently being fed avocado. It sounds like cannibalism, but it looks adorable. Spicily delicious jicama salad, grilled amberjack and a bottle of wine are followed by a far more relaxing sleep.
At the dock we meet the resort’s director, Kris, who carries the air of the Man Behind the Curtain. For pop culture buffs, think Jacob from Lost mixed with The Dude from The Big Lebowski. We chat about the town and this special luxury resort. He pokes fun at Mrs Smith’s aversion to iguanas (he was already mysteriously privy to this titbit). Upon departure, we don’t feel as if we are saying goodbye to a staff; we are saying goodbye to friends… who just happen to own an avocado-eating cat-dog.