Cedar Labyrinth

It was gray and blustery leaving Vancouver for the island, where I was heading to visit MM and walk the labyrinth that had been etched into her back yard. I found it interesting that energy giant Cenovus is advertising oil products and the Tar Sands on BC Ferries, asking us to check out the “whole story”…

We played six hours of hard core Chicago bridge for M’s birthday before heading out to Cedar, south of Nanaimo, for the labyrinth experience.

Here the birthday girl consults with Sona over her score card.

I was amazed to see that a huge labyrinth had been etched into the side of the property, fitting perfectly into the space between the gigantic trees on one side and the property line on the other.

Skye cut the lines into the ground with a shovel – must have been back-breaking work – and then lined them with pine cones, moss, rocks, shells, and other goodies which sometimes attract local raccoons who enjoy snuffling around in them and messing up the design. At the labyrinth’s centre is a concrete pond, now unfortunately empty of water but hopefully to be filled again in the not too distant future, and a bench for seated contemplation.

Gracing the roof line of the workshop is one of my old mannequin arms, beckoning to the sky.

The last loop of this 11 circuit 60 foot Chartres labyrinth goes through Siggi’s wooden shack, where plastic people greet the pilgrim and seats have kindly been arranged for rest.

Along the path are various small statues, including a smiling Buddha, a piggie, and an angel.

The neighbour dog was very curious about what we were doing, peering in at us through a hole in the fence.

Below is an image of the prototype with which the dimensions of the labyrinth were calculated – complex design!

The flight back was beautiful.

Below you can see Lost Lagoon and Stanley Park as we cruise in for a landing.

See more photos here.

Vancouver Spring

I love Vancouver in the Spring – all the beautiful blossoming trees, the big ships in the harbour,

the festivals … this post is for my sister Tracey in Dundurn, Saskatchewan, south of Saskatoon, where the snows have just begun to recede.

My bike commute to the bookstore, over the Burrard Bridge, still in the throes of earthquake remediation, and around Kits Point and down the new Cornwall bike lane in the process of being built, is wonderful. Although the pavement is constantly being torn up, and the route keeps changing, I still love it that I am able to get from our place downtown out to Banyen in twenty minutes, even with a stop at Kits Beach to take pictures.

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival a couple of weeks ago saw a crowd gathered at the Burrard Sky Train Station to watch the Taicho Drummers, a group of young Japanese “big drummers” pounding the skins beneath the beautiful white cherry blossoms of Bentall Centre.

After that workout we were treated to haiku by the aspiring young actors of the Bard on the Beach theatre school led by Christopher Gaze.

I was a bit disappointed when they used the occasion to promote Bard rather than simply write some elegant Japanese-style poetry.

After leaving that spectacle, I stopped in at the Christ Church Cathedral, where I walked their portable labyrinth, a classical Chartres path painted onto a huge piece of canvas easily unrolled and laid out in the nave. Along with me, several other visitors took turns plying the curves in their stocking feet, shoes being a sacrilegious no-no here.

While rolling down Cornwall to work the other night, I stopped at the corner of Collingwood where homeowners have installed sheets of construction paper bearing haiku for the cherry blossom festival – wonderful under their carpet of flowering trees.

Christine, Barb, and I took in the Verses Festival of words semi-final of slam poetry, starring poets from across Canada, all competing for a chance to go to France for the World Championship Slam Poetry Finals.

The three of us were called upon to be judges, a triple-headed hydra of poetry afficionadodom, for Bout 6 at the Havana Theatre, a fascinating experience. I really enjoyed savouring the diversity of the poetic offerings.

Other than that, I am digging my work with seniors here, inspired by the fantastic exploits of the Kits skaters, some of whom are in their 90s and still skating, and the Barclay Manor painters, where I have had the opportunity of interacting with senior artists still going strong into their 8th decade – rock on!

Below I am working on gessoeing a huge canvas for a new painting; although I had imagined a 9 x 12 foot piece, technical issues (I don’t have a big enough wall) mean that I will have to cut it in half – bummer!

Spring Equinox Nevruz Celebration Labyrinth Walk

For our celebration of the Spring Equinox and Nevruz New Year, we laid out a labyrinth in Barb’s garage and illuminated it with LED, tea lights, and candles. We invited folks to join us in celebration by bringing a light source to add to the layout and walking the labyrinth.

While Ty and I worked on the drawing of the classical Cretan labyrinth on the garage floor, Doug and Barb laid out a candle and light path in the backyard.

Although we had diagrams, the labyrinth was trickier than I expected to design; since we did not have enough room for the entire seven circuit walk, we pared it down to five circuits instead.

But figuring out which way each circuit should turn took some careful thought and planning.

After drawing the circuit paths, I decorated the lines with flowers and LED lights while Ty set up the projector and computer equipment at the centre of the labyrinth to project a series of videos onto the garage doors.

At the appointed moment we all walked slowly along the lit grass path, entered the labyrinth, and walked its magical circuit, candles in hand, to the accompaniment of sound and moving video images that covered us in a therapeutic bath of changing colours.

About Nevruz:

Nowruz or Nevruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and families gather together to observe the rituals.

Nevruz has been celebrated by people from diverse ethnic communities and religious backgrounds for thousands of years. It is an ancient holiday based on astronomical calculations. Ancient night-sky observers were experts because it was essential to calculate when plants would appear, when a crop should be sown, and when the ceremonies customarily held on special dates such as the spring equinox should be carried out. Western historians believe that the festival originated with the Zoroastrians; the dates for the appearance of this monotheistic religion vary widely from after 330 BC to 6000 BC. However, the ancient Persians believed that this day was the first day of the New Year, hence NawRuz (naw, new; ruz, year) and this belief continues today.

One of the main concepts of Nevruz is the importance of light. It celebrates the victory of a god of light over the powers of darkness, a basic tenet in Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster is supposed to have preached in the royal court of Bactria that there were two forces in the world, good, associated with light, and evil, associated with darkness, and that they were in constant combat with each other. Since the Equinox represents the moment at which day and night are equal, the coming of spring heralds the triumph of light over darkness in the lengthening days. The early Zoroastrians believed that out of this cosmological battle came the origins of life and when the cycle of life began it was called the new day or Nevruz. The nature of the early Nevruz celebrations is unknown with the exception of lighting bonfires. Leaping across them would be part of a purification ritual in which everyone would be rid of their illnesses or bad luck. Rather than leaping over bonfires, or Barb’s fire pit, we lit candles and stepped over them for our ceremonial ritual.

See more pictures here.

Hasta Luego, Puerto Vallarta!

Well, we are back in Vancouver after a wonderful trip, luckily to some beautiful sunny, albeit cold, weather. Here are some photos and thoughts from our last couple of days in and around Puerto Vallarta.

The beach vendors have a tough job, trying to sell stuff to vacationers who, in many cases, have been here many times and already have all the trinkets and Mexican clothing they want. These pictures are from Playa de los Camarones just past the north end of the Malecon.

These black and yellow birds are beautiful.

This little guy hopped up onto my umbrella just as I was trying to take another picture of him.

The banana boat didn’t see much action in these parts but this day a group of young men decided to give it a go. With the high waves, it was a bit difficult for the operators to get the banana to the beach so that they could jump on.

Coming back in after the ride was tricky, too; the waves were still high, some of them couldn’t swim, and one of the beach folks had to go out on the paddle board and bring them in.

This sculpture of sea gods near Rosita’s Hotel is a favourite roosting place for the pelicans that hang around here.

Pelicans are large! And have attitude in keeping with their size. This beast, who obviously considered this patch of sidewalk his turf, gave Ty a run for his money, coming after us with his beak open.

These two, dressed all in black under a black umbrella, were an interesting sight on the beach.

We took one last stroll down the Malecon to admire the sculptures and the roof top line-up of chubby aging rock gods.

Feeling the need for something cold after a hard day on the beach, we stopped in at Da Vino Dante, the wine and tapas bar upstairs from Gallery Dante – great spot!

Our very last day was spent at Swell Beach Bar on Playa Los Muertos; everyone was commenting on the condition of the beach; just as we saw elsewhere in the world, rising sea levels are eroding the playa here, leaving a smaller expanse of sand and an abrupt tide’s edge cliff of sand.

On our way back to the ranch the Pope blessed us from his balcony.

Last supper at the Blue Shrimp on the beach was just OK in terms of food but the guitarist, a Gypsy King’s tribute artist, was fantastic.

Micro dogs!

Coronas with ice!

Cemetery sculpture!

Ravens!

Tattoos!

Colourful paintings!

Skeletons!

Tiny parrots!

Big pelicans!

Sayonara, PV – Hasta Luego!

See more photos here.

Sunday and Sundry

Things we have learned in our attempt to live local, none of which will really come as a surprise: 1) fruits and vegetables, if bought from small local shops, are one tenth the cost of those in Vancouver 2) rice and pasta are one fifth the cost 3) pastries, cheese, fish are one quarter the cost 4) beer, meat, and sauces are half the cost 5) milk, cereal, wine, and coffee are the same price 6) bus transport is one quarter the cost Entertainment, for us in the form of beach bars, averages $35, including tip, if we share one order of food. The little cutie below was fighting with his leash at Mango Beach Bar.

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Beach vendors are relentless, coming in waves along the beach like the incoming tide. And speaking of waves and tides, you can see how strong they are here at Playa del Camarones, where they have carved a bank in the  beach.

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People work very long hours for not very good wages and few days off.

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Lots of people bring their beasts here; many people adopt stray dogs locally. Schnauzers are a favourite. It seems like the new pier may have changed  the water currents in the Los Muertos area; new expanses of sandbars are being carved out and the big waves are breaking in a different area than I remember from last time. The fishing must be good off the pier; these pelicans know a good thing when they see it.

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If you can speak Spanish, you usually get a better price for almost everything. My crummy Spanish occasionally gets us cheaper donuts… Las Brazzas grill has fantastic grilled shrimp in soya sauce and garlic.

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Walking around Gringo Gulch the other day, not having any idea where I was but wanting to explore the hilly area behind the church, I stumbled across the Hacienda San Angel, a beautiful boutique hotel and restaurant with a tremendous view of the entire Bay and wonderful old wooden religious sculptures.

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At one time it was a convent, then the villa of Richard Burton, bought while he was starring in the 1964 John Huston film that put this place on the map, The Night of the Iguana. Attached to the villa by a pink Venetian-style bridge was Casa Kimberly, the house given by Burton to his lover Elizabeth Taylor. Unfortunately, even though everything was intact when sold by Taylor in the eighties, it was not kept that way and the place is now a gigantic construction site. The only evidence of that famous filming remaining here is a dilapidated sign, barely legible, just south of Mismaloya where the film was set.

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We sampled the South Side Shuffle delights once again and enjoyed an interesting chat with Jack, the owner of Ambos Galleria. A really great show of paintings is on view at the Contempo Gallery by Cuban artist Yoel Diaz Galvez; I recognized his work as being by the same person as a show that we had seen in Guanajuato in 2012. Obviously others liked it, too, because the gallery was packed.

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The “husband’s waiting area” benches get a pretty good workout on these evenings.  We also met Linda,  originally from Victoria, the owner of Banderas Soap Works, who was stirring up a storm of lovely smelling handmade soap.

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Sunday nights El Centro comes alive with locals and visitors. The municipal band plays in the square in front of the church,  all decked out in traditional white. After they finish, a DJ spins contemporary and traditional Latin hits for a big throng of dancers against a backdrop of incredible deep blue sky.

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Strolling around the back streets we discovered the Que Pasa bar, an expat haven, and the municipal market, with several butcher stalls.

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We took a  moment to visit the 5th of December cemetery, walking among the colourful headstones and family tombs, one of which had an interestingly painted portrait of Jesus.

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Below are some closeups of the plants at the Botanical Gardens, where I went back another day to take some infrared photos.

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Centro Art Walkin’

Every Wednesday night in Centro an Art Walk happens from 6 until 10 in the evening. Good ol’ Ty humours me by indulging my mania for both art and walking; rather than going home from the beach after an afternoon’s strenuous lounging we headed straight downtown for the walk, with only the briefest of pauses to flag down the donut man  and scarf down two huge donuts for sustenance.

The dozen or so art walk galleries are found just north of the main church and east of the  Malecon. Helping to encourage folks to come out are the small glasses of vino served by each, the better to attract eager, and thirsty, art patrons. We began our art journey at the Peyote People gallery of folk art, mostly from Oaxaca and Chiapas, where the attendant showed us some Catrina skeletons, full torso female figures in fancy clothing designed to mock the pretensions of the rich, who, like everyone else, irrespective of their wealth, end up as bones. We also saw some incredibly intricate beaded skulls with tiny insects atop them – really fabulous.

From there we pounded the pavement to the galleries further north, stopping at a cluster of three selling beautifully decorated ceramics and the Loft Gallery, a three storey emporium of mostly realist painting. It had a wonderful view out over the rooftops of PV and the setting sun. Around the corner was Galeria Uno, packed with art lovers consuming tiny margaritas. Ty lurked in the shadows, practising his best travelling incognito mode.

A few blocks farther north are five of what I consider to be the most interesting spaces, Gallery Corsica, Gallery Omar Alonzo, Gallery Pacifica, Galeria des Artistes, and La Pulga, all of which have wonderful architecture and good art, especially the sculpture.

I particularly enjoyed the mixed media portraits at Omar Alonzo by Rogelio Mango, which incorporate silk and oil paint.

After a few hours of dedicated art viewing, hunger overcame us, necessitating a hasty hike to Old Town and grilled shrimp at a packed Joe Jack’s Fish Shack.

See more Art Walk photos here.

I really love walking around the old town area and Isla Cuale is one of my favorite spots. Oscar’s restaurant near the beach has a second floor gallery that right now is showing portraits of Indigenous people by local artist Marta Gilbert. At the studios on the other end of the island, I ran into (not literally) one of the artist patrons of Barclay Manor in the West End, Tavia, who looked very startled to see me. I think it was the hat that did it. She, and lots of others, both locals and visitors, was painting up a storm under guidance of maestro Hector.

Yesterday we decided to spend our beach day at Conchas Chinas Beach, the next bay south of Los Muertos where we usually go. It is accessed by a path that runs along the high tide line at the beach’s edge, over a rocky point and along the waterfront homes south of here.

We did not make it all the way but chose to set up our stuff in the shade of a rocky outcrop between two small rocky bays.

The current is very strong here and the waves high; we had to relocate from our first spot because the waves inundated it.

Just after we had been  talking about what we would do if someone got into trouble in the water, it happened. An older man had decided to go out swimming in this very dangerous place and couldn’t get back in; the current was dragging him out to sea. It became quickly apparent that he needed help and his wife was rushing back and forth on the beach, trying to call for help on her cell phone. Two young tourist guys just happened to be there, saw what was happening, and saved him by running up to a nearby hotel, grabbing a life preserver, swimming out to him, putting it on him, and towing him back in to the thunderous applause of everyone watching from the shore. Lucky man.

See more photos here.

El Tuito and the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

There are several small colonial towns in the Sierra Madre Hills around PV. Most require an overnight stay but one,  El  Tuito, is close enough for a day trip. We decided to combine Tuito with a visit to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens since both are in the same direction. While local tour companies ask upwards of $85 dollars for a tour of these two places, it is very easy to go by local bus for 27 pesos instead.

We  caught the Tuito bus in Old Town at the corner of Carranza and Aquacate at 10 am and were whisked south along the highway past Mismaloya. At Boca de Tomatlan we turned inland and headed up into the mountains. Sitting on the right hand side of the bus, I had a tremendous view of the cliff face and jungle,  all the better to see any boulders rolling downhill to crush us. Every 100 feet or so just such a  boulder sat by the side of the road…  The road, a one lane highway, twists and turns as it switchbacks up the mountain.  As usual, I was a bit of a nervous Nellie with a death grip on the back of the seat in front of me as the driver sped around the hairpin turns.

As luck would have it,  after zooming through several small hamlets and going ever higher into a beautiful feathery pine forest, we arrived alive after an hour and a half at the sleepy burg of El Tuito, the capital of Cabo Corriente province. At 1100 meters, this town is cooler than the coast and has a completely different feel. The town’s name means “little beautiful bay” in Nahuatl, the local indigenous language. El Tuito is not at all dependent on tourism; in fact,  almost no visitors make it out here, except the few who come by bus and, this day, one jeep-load of guided tour people.

All the action takes place on and around the main square, a trapezoid paved two block area surrounded by government buildings, a Cultural Centre, and a couple of restaurants.

Huge fig trees dominate the Plaza, under which the local community sat enjoying the shade. We spent some time investigating the Cultural Centre, a beautiful orange clay building with a lovely interior courtyard and a dramatic mural decorating its main staircase.

This painting, by local artist David Edmundo Castillon Sanchez, is entitled Universal Revolution and illustrates the history of Cabo Corrientes.

In it are a vast cast of characters, including the Magellan brothers, Admiral Armando Castillon, aboriginal leaders, and figures from the Mexican revolution. The painting occupies three full walls and in the bottom left hand corner the artist has depicted himself holding a banner with his name and the date, not unlike artists of old like Durer used to do. One of the Centre’s employees, Efren, was kind enough to give me a document outlining the painting’s program. From it, I learned that, because one of the conquistadors’ ships had been sunk on arrival in 1517 by rough seas, they named this area Cabo Corriente, Cape Current. Apparently the beaches along this stretch of coast are not swimmable because of the currents.

After stopping at Los Mariachis for a Nescafe and chat with a couple of other visitors from PV, we rolled around the corner to the Church of San Pedro Apostoli, beautifully painted and decorated inside with flowers.

The scent was fantastic. After asking the fellow cleaning whether the flowers were for a special occasion, he told me in Spanish at length about the community’s grand Fiesta of the Virgin Mary on January 12th each year.

He explained that people come from all the outlying areas to join in celebration. Also of note in this church is the boulder altar, an enormous hunk of granite not unlike those that could potentially kill bus passengers as they scream down cliff faces… José explained that the Saint’s name, Pedro, is like Piedra, which means stone, hence the stone altar.

My Spanish was not up to the task of understanding how the boulder had been transported and installed in the church. Just outside the church we noticed the yellow jeep of a tour group whose clients, like us, were wandering around the back streets. A territorial doggie on a rooftop barked officiously down at us as we strolled by –  such are the joys of small town life. Back at the Town Square again we were lucky enough to hop on the bus out just as it was about to leave.

After a harrowing ride down the hill we were deposited at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, a paradise of coolness and greenery.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the trails and lounging in the garden’s hacienda where they have kindly supplied couches and pillows for that very purpose.

Part of the twenty acres is devoted to forest trails that reminded us of Lynn Canyon Park, including a river trail that descends to the swimmable Emerald Pool, and a black diamond hike called the Jaguar trail.

Next to the hacienda is a pond with aquatic plants and a solarium with varieties of orchids. Inside the building is a restaurant with a nice deck and tasty food and on the main floor an exhibition of infrared photos, some of which were very good. I really enjoyed having a little siesta on a lounge chair and watching the hummingbirds come and go. I could have stayed there for a very long time.

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See more photos here.

Isla Cuale Stroll and Random Observations

Today we decided to spend our time photographing Isla Cuale and the area around it,  an oasis of green that divides Old Town from Centro. After walking over on a pretty warm day we stopped to refuel at Las Brazzas,  a small bistro on the eastern end of the island near the art studios. It’s the only restaurant left at that end of the  island; all  the others that were open last year are now cat colonies.

Joining us on the patio were Heather, an expat from Ontario, and Irma, a native PVer. Heather has been here for seven years, living in and around the Old Town and working as a care aid. She likes it, but is sick of all the tourists in the winter and says the place is like a tomb in the summer, empty and screaming hot. Just as in every tourist town we’ve been to, the locals have a love – hate relationship with tourism and who can blame them? It was interesting talking with Heather about her experiences here and hearing her insights into the various communities that make up this town.

This day the printmaking studio was open and we had a chat with Dan from North Carolina who was working on a black and white woodcut, his first. He wanted to know why Canadians were less apt to be taken in by news stories about how dangerous Mexico is than Americans. We postulated that more people watch CBC than Fox News…

From the print studio we wandered over to our usual taco stand and then to Le Cuiza, a restaurant, bar, and gallery near the beach end of the island.

Very colorful paintings adorn the walls here and all the wooden furniture is vibrantly painted. The artists here offer workshops and classes and the bar does a good business with Canadians on karaoke nights.

Outside in the gigantic banyan tree iguanas race overhead on the tree’s huge limbs. It is interesting that we have seen hardly any insects here – no mosquitoes, no bees, just a few wasps and a few tiny butterflies. I wonder if they spray the bejeezus out of the place. I don’t miss the mosquitoes but it is curious that most insects seem to have disappeared from the landscape here.

Our final stop on the photo tour was Fireworks ceramic studio on the second floor of Los Mercados, a tiny shopping arcade in a beautiful building  in Old Town.

Arranged around a central courtyard and painted a warm yellow-orange,  the place reminded me of Italy.

Fireworks occupies an airy area with lots of different kinds of vessels and tiles waiting to be painted, as well as books of illustration, patterns, and designs for inspiration. It is a U paint it studio, where one pays for the greenware, paints it, and has it fired by studio personnel. I may give it a whirl.

On the main floor of the arcade was –  glory be – a good looking wine store and a deli with several different cuts of meat, including our favourite hot Italian sausage – joy! Naturally we had to patronize both; I have been missing a nice glass of wine in the evenings. Both places are a bit pricey,  charging close to Canadian prices for their food and catering to the expat community. And they are air-conditioned; I think that was the first air-conditioned environment that I’ve been in  here. Be that as it may, we rolled home with a small bag of goodies that we are surely going to enjoy.  It is good to know that if we crave food and drink that we are used to from home,  we can get it here.

In other “news”:

Some local young artists have started a gallery right down at the beach, selling and showing very colourful paintings and painted furniture.

Here is another of the plethora of VW bugs in this town.

We sampled some mole sauce with chocolate from our favorite taco stand.

Here is another great anabolic steroid ad –  get your roid rage here cheap, cheap, almost free.

Another thing that is “almost free” here is parasailing (oh autocorrect how I hate you. Not parasites, parasailing). One woman high over the beach, ignoring the frantic whistles of the sail master trying to get her to turn the sail towards the beach, just about came down far out in the deep water.

I spoke to two lifeguards on the beach up north near Ley Supermarket who told me that they make at least five rescues a week every week of the year, mostly of people who don’t know how to swim and go in the water after drinking. At this beach there are strong currents not far offshore and the water gets deep very quickly, none of which is evident from the shore unless you know what to look for. Most locals can’t swim, and people drown here every year.

Every day on the waters of PV is a pelican party.

See more photos here

Sayulita Snapshots

Sayulita on a sunny day …  We decided to take the bus to explore this small surfing town up the coast from PV after having done research that said it was a one hour trip. Well, the driver who could do that trip in an hour should present himself to the Formula One tracks; our bus took at least two hours, after the 40 minutes it took to get to the North End of town to catch the Sayulita bus across from Coppel.

On the way we passed through the Hotel Zone in which the massive all-inclusive developments reside,  as well as the gigantic condo towers of Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. As our taxi driver from the airport noted, these developments are sucking the life out of Centro, since the people who stay here seldom go downtown and the resorts don’t contribute much to the local economy, particularly if they import their own staff rather than hiring locals.

As a result, in the downtown core many businesses have closed, leaving empty storefronts with forlorn Se Renta signs yellowing in their windows. In addition, these places are entirely generic and not at all Mexican. Anyway, we rolled through north Vallarta and several small towns and hamlets on the way, in each of which stopping to take on more passengers.

After a somewhat harrowing brakes-free careen downhill,  bringing back bad flashbacks of crazy drivers in Thailand and Fiji, we arrived on the outskirts of Sayulita. The road into town was hot, dry, and dusty and gave us no reason to stop before arriving at the beach, a conclusion presumably reached by most other visitors given the shuttered storefronts on that side of the river. However, we did see a local cowboy canter into town  accompanied by his dog running in unison, not something you see every day of the week in Vancouver.

A walk through the colourful stores,  bars,  and restaurants brought us down to a gently curved bay with medium-sized surfing waves and a large throng of beach goers watching a surfing competition.

In Puerto Vallarta I had wondered where all the young 20somethings were. Now I know;  they are all in Sayulita surfing or watching surfers.

We stationed ourselves beachside under a shady awning and watched the flow of people come and go and an acrobatic demonstration by one of the surf dudes.

After a couple of cervesas we wandered back through the town,  checking out some of the galleries and jewelry.

Someone had told us that the rich and the hippies have been fighting about the direction the town will take; we saw some evidence of that struggle in the somewhat uneasy coexistence of high end retail and cheap bars.

After watching an artisan paint clay piglets and having purchased a tiny hand painted skull to add to my collection of Memento Mori memorabilia, it was time to hit the road again Jack for the long bus ride home.

One of the interesting aspects of Mexican bus riding is that often local musicians, some of them very good, will jump on for a few stops and serenade the captive audience. The fellow who sang to the accompaniment of his boombox on the way out was good.  The same can’t be said, though, for the guy on the way back, whose three note guitar strumming and very loud singing directly into my ear did not endear him to me. Another facet of Mexican travel is the number of vendors selling stuff on the highway right in the traffic: squeegee guys,  newspaper sellers, performing artists, flower sellers,  and men in cowboy hats thrusting chiclets in the bus windows. We were told the story of one poor fellow who on a bad day sold nothing and on a good sales day was routinely robbed of his day’s take. A difficult way to make a living.

After having jumped off the bus in old town we headed over to the local BBQ joint where we joined a crowd of hungry,  jostling chicken lovers fighting for takeout chicken packets. Having secured our bag of eats without any blood loss,  we made our weary way hillward.

A few other things of interest, at least to me:

Old volkswagons abound here, all red.

Steroids must be legal here; they are advertised in pharmacies.

The other day I purchased a handmade woolen sheep from one of the indigenous vendors downtown. She had a very colourful stand full of woolen animals and wall hangings to which I was drawn like moth to a flame or crow to shiny metal. As I was looking at her wares, she brought out her smartphone and showed me pictures of the family farm in Chiapas where six girls spin the wool of six sheep to make their products.

I was charmed by her but Ty, cynic that he is, reminded me of the time in Merida when I had been taken advantage of by two guys with a story about poor orphanage kids. However, I believed her and, even if it were not true, I don’t care. I love my sheep (although I did feel a moment of buyer’s remorse at how much I paid for it.)

The ceiling of the now shuttered Le Bistro Cafe,  home to multitudes of cats on Isla Cuale, has a ceiling fresco inspired by, and possibly an homage to, the Oculus of the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna.