In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico the stares from the townfolk in Mexico may take some getting used to, but after awhile you will realize that the attention is due to your celebrity status. Many Mexicans have never seen a person in a wheelchair, let alone a van with wheelchair lift, hand controls and a vehicle without a driver’s seat. The bewilderment in the eyes of children is really something to behold. Salvedor’s three young children took turns taking rides up and down the lift as though they were at a Six Flags amusement park.
Puerto Vallarta poses somewhat of an anomaly when considered in the context of “the big” Mexico. I often felt as though I was invisible. If I didn’t wheel out of someone’s way I swear they would have tripped and fallen right over me. On one occasion, I found myself wedged betwixt cobblestones in a street, unable to move in any direction. Navigating cobblestone streets such as these, which are not at all uncommon in Mexico, can be downright dangerous in high heels, I am told. During the fifteen or twenty minutes Kristie had been shopping at the produce market and farmacia, not one of the hundreds of passer-bys offered to assist me. In fact, no one even looked at me. It was eerey. Later it was explained to me that the residents of Puerto Vallarta are used to, perhaps even tired of, foreigners and barely raise a brow. It is not uncommon to see the likes of a Tom Cruise or any of a number of celebrities whom often escape to Puerto Vallarta, dining at El Set or some other hot spot (though I have yet to be tripped over by any.) Again, this is an extremely rare exception to the Rule: Mexicans, throughout the country, are typically extremely helpful, often to the point of insistent. Your most sensible response; accept their help and respond in kind.
Unless it’s completely out of the question, leave the power chair at home if you plan on doing any serious traveling. Its sheer size and weight is reason enough. Beside the amount of precious space a power chair can consume, there are too many places throughout Mexico that it just will not be feasible to use; cobblestone streets, sandy beaches, up steps and over obstacles, through narrow doorways, to name a few. Spare parts and qualified mechanics to repair them? Forget it! Life can, and will, be challenging enough in a manual wheelchair. Purchase a set of solid mountain bike tires, not pneumatic tires. Although most Mexicans in their sleep can repair flat tires, it is just not worth the inconvenience of having to get them repaired. The wider, more rugged mountain-bike tires render a far easier and more comfortable ride across cobblestone, gravel, sand and the majority of the surfaces you will find yourself having to navigate.
If your chair is not equipped with some type of shock absorber, check your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer to find out if they are offered as an option.
Be sure to pack your owner’s manual and any tools required to make necessary adjustments and repairs. Ref: “Packing List, Musts to Bring Along” in Ch. XX – “Before You Leave”.
Local mechanics are remarkably creative and inexpensive. There’s not much one of them can’t fix with anything more than some spit, an empty soda can and some duct tape.