Puerto Vallarta: Running the gauntlet at the airport

Prior to our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, I hadn’t arrived in Mexico by air since a 1989 vacation to Ixtapa with my parents. So, in stark contrast to my previous experience, I was pleasantly surprised to see Puerto Vallarta has a clean, modern international airport terminal. Complete with air-conditioned jetways, no less.

Although the walk from the plane to the immigration hall was a bit long, the checkpoint was efficient, with passport scanners and barcode readers for the tourist cards. The officer was courteous when he reminded Kathryn she needed to sign her arrival document. Our bags arrived on a carousel. Customs examined every bag by x-ray. They politely confiscated and discarded fresh fruit discovered on some of our fellow passengers. We got the green light when we pushed “the button”, but a small squadron of officers were ready to inspect our luggage if we had gotten the red. Overall, the arrival experience was quick and painless.

Until we left the customs area.

Immediately upon leaving the customs area, we were forced to walk through a narrow corridor, maybe 50 feet long, with white desks and video screens on both sides. I now refer to this as the gauntlet. In the gauntlet, roughly a dozen men and women with official-looking badges work over the fresh arrivals, trying to convince us they are our ride to our hotel. They’re not. They’re timeshare salesmen, trying to capture our attention so we’ll hear their pitches.

Mexican Federal Police officers in Downtown Puerto Vallarta
We didn’t take any photos of the gauntlet at the airport, so I’m attaching this photo of two officers of the Mexican Federal Police patrolling the center of Puerto Vallarta. Frankly, I found them a lot less intimidating than the timeshare salesmen.

The good news: The transportation confirmation we received had a warning about these guys. It was hard to miss, since it was about the only part of the confirmation, other than our own names, printed in all capital letters. The bad news: Kathryn, who’d secured the transportation for us, hadn’t bothered to read the confirmation herself, despite having assured me she had. I knew what was going on, but she did not.

So, like chum to the sharks, the salesmen sunk their teeth into her. I was caught off guard without a plan to move my wife a distance of 50 feet to where our real ride was waiting. Not without being an asshole.

While Kathryn was being softened up, I began slowly drifting away from the two men working her over. I could literally see our girl through a set of sliding glass doors at the end of the corridor. One of the men, knowing the pitch wouldn’t work without both of us listening, kept following me to reel me back. Then I’d follow him back, nudge Kathryn, nod my head in the direction of the exit, and repeat. After about five minutes of this drill, she still didn’t seem to get what was going on.

It was time to be an asshole.

One of the timeshare salesmen was holding the confirmation, which Kathryn had surrendered. It contained all sorts of useful personal information to make his pitch easier. I snatched the confirmation out of his hands, grabbed Kathryn by the upper arm, and dragged her down the corridor and through the sliding doors. Then I pointed to the girl in the pink shirt with the sign for our transportation company. “That’s our ride!”

I didn’t stay angry long. Our real driver was friendly and got us to the resort promptly. He offered to stop if we wanted to buy some beer. We politely declined. I’ve never had a problem finding beer before.

If you visit Puerto Vallarta and arrive by air, regardless of whether you arrange transportation in advance, be aware of what’s going on when you leave the customs area. If you don’t see any obvious airport services like cafes or gift shops, you’re in the gauntlet. Keep walking!

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