Road Trip: Playa Agua Blanca, Iguanario, National Turtle Center, Playa San Agustinillo, and Ventanilla Lagoon

We’ve only been in Puerto Escondido for 5 days but it feels like it’s been a month – what a wonderful place!

In addition to the three km long Playa Zicatela, the surfer’s dream beach, there are quite a few small bays and coves to the north with beautiful small swimming beaches. The other day we spent a few glorious hours at Playa Manzanillo, one of them.

Yesterday, we, along with Miguel, Brandy, Tina, and Shawn, were off on a beach-hopping road trip south.

After picking up Miguel’s friend’s car, the six of us, plus Shawn’s surf board, headed down the road. This car, an old Chevy, is a very low rider with small back tires and every time we drove over a speed bump (and there are lots of them), the car bottomed out with a horrible scraping sound as its undercarriage connected with the concrete. It didn’t help that there were three of us (two of them big men) in the back seat. However, even so, we made the trip without leaving the muffler, or any other engine part, behind on the road.

Our first stop was Playa Agua Blanca (White Water Beach), where a loud man still drunk from last night’s bender latched onto Ty and insisted that they were friends for life (or at least until the tequila ran out).

After breakfast under the trees and a walk along the almost deserted beach, we were back in the car and rolling down the highway towards the Iguanario, an iguana sanctuary.

At the sanctuary, a two person operation, are hundreds, if not thousands, of the beasts, hatched, raised, and released in the area. We saw lots of small iguanas, one of whom, a two year old girl, was given to Ty to hold as we made our tour.

She seemed to enjoy her time in Ty’s company. We watched as the caretaker chopped up two giant papayas and whistled to the huge iguanas watching from the nearby tree branches; one, the boldest, came out of the trees and strolled up to the breakfast feast, which he proceeded to chow down on with apparent delight, his pink tongue and big jaws making short work of the orange fruit. Later another large beast joined the first, while a tiny iguana raced up, grabbed a tasty morsel from his mouth and ran off with it.

Our next stop was the National Turtle Center in Mazunte, the turtle capital of Mexico. This oceanside facility has both outdoor ponds – two very large ones – and an indoor aquarium and this day, being Sunday, was visited by a horde of school kids who ignored the “Do Not Touch” signs.

We saw an amazing variety of land and sea turtles, large and small, as well as tropical fish.

The day was hot and a dip in the ocean imperative. We stopped at nearby Playa San Agustinillo, a beautiful bowl-shaped beach with high waves plyed by local boogie boarders.

It was an interesting experience being in the water here because the waves strike both coming in and, after bouncing against the sand bowl of the beach, going out again.

Standing at the right place in the water, Ty and I were hit by waves and reflections of waves, their interaction creating a huge fountain of water that blasted me into the air about three feet when the waves were particularly high.

Every once and a while a set of enormous waves rolled in, tumbling the boarders over and over, before shooting them out the other end.

Last stop on the beach-hopping tour was a trip to the Playa Ventanilla Eco-Center about five minutes drive north. On this thirty five km deserted beach is another turtle sanctuary, one restaurant, and a couple of camping spots.

Here we took a lagoon tour in a boat rowed through the mangroves by a local guide. Laguna Ventanilla is an estuary that supports a whole community of people who in turn are striving to conserve the ecosystems there. The community consists of about twenty families, all related and working together to protect their area, who offer tours in lanchas done with oars only, so as not to damage the estuary and plant life there.

Just as we were getting going, the guide pointed out the massive head of a crocodile resting against the embankment – wow!

He whistled and the head slowly slid down the bank and turned our way; not only did the head turn our way, but so did the entire beast, making its way through the water towards us as the guide paddled the boat away.

Although we did not see its body, our guide told us that the croc is four meters long. He also pointed out a couple of other smaller crocodiles as we proceeded. Their primary food source is dogs, so he said … yikes, not a pretty mental picture!

As we paddled farther into the lagoon, we saw an incredible number of birds, including white ibis, fly catchers, turkey vultures, herons, tiny finches, egrets, king fishers, and spoonbill ibis.

The sounds they made were incredible. One area was full of nesting ibis – we saw some babies in a couple of the nests. Two types of mangroves grow here, white and red.

The red mangroves are enormous and cruising slowly through the forest of their roots and trunks was fabulous. Wow, what an incredible way to end our day trip!

Once back in the car, we headed back towards Puerto as the sun, a glorious golden-red orb, was starting to set. Unfortunately, we found out that said car had no lights; even though the dashboard lit up, the road did not. Pissed off at our dark ride, someone coming from the other direction on our side of the road almost ran us off the pavement – shit! Luckily we rolled into town without further incident just as it got completely dark. Many thanks to Miguel for the fantastic tour!

For more info about the Turtle Museum, click here.

For more info about Ventanilla Lagoon, click here.

For more info about the South Pacific Coast of Mexico, click here.

For more pics, click here.

Puerto Escondido: Markets, Turtles, and Phosphorescence

Needing groceries (the hotel has a community kitchen), Ty and I, accompanied by Helen and Belinda, two Aussies also staying at the Swiss Oasis, hopped aboard the camionetta (a small pickup truck with bench seating in the back like Thai songthaews) to the market.

Puerto Escondido’s market is very clean and well maintained, with a good selection of food and small restaurants. We had a jugo verde at Myrna’s juice stand and tortas (for which Ty developed a taste in Guanajuato) for lunch,

bought a big bag full of produce, did a small walkabout downtown, and jumped on the camionetta once again for the trip back. Back at the ranch, I enjoyed a swim in the pool. Puerto Escondido is hot – the day after we arrived the temperature hit 38 degrees.

The Hotelito Swiss Oasis supports the Escondido economy by recommending local people with whom to do eco-tours. Brandy had done a turtle release and lagoon tour and highly recommended it, so yesterday evening was the moment to give it a go. Chop (not sure about the spelling), a fellow who lives at the lagoon, arrived to pick us up at 6:40 and we were off in his car to Playa Delfin (Dolphin Beach), a twenty five kilometer long beach a ways north of Escondido, to release turtles.

This beach is almost deserted along its length; a few housing developments, most shuttered or unfinished, dot the area, and one small town lies near its middle but other than that, the beach is undeveloped.

It is home to a couple of species of endangered sea turtles, the Green Turtle and the Leatherback (although leatherbacks are rare in this part of the world, apparently). We were driven to the turtle release area, which consists of a couple of small camping tents, a wooden lean-to, two quad motorcycles, three nesting areas, and one crazy dog who keeps the fellow who looks after the area company.

This place is a one man operation; the caretaker works here alone, without pay, subsisting on the tips of people who visit to participate in the turtle release. He live here all year round in one of the small tents.

This evening, in addition to Ty, myself, and Coco, there was a van load of Mexican tourists for the release of four baby turtles, three tiny greens and one larger leatherback, born that morning and ready to start their life in the ocean. The four turtles were kept in a small pink plastic tub and, after we washed our hands, we were allowed to pick up and examine them (I wasn’t sure about the merits of handling them …).

After waiting for a while to watch the sun descend in the sky, and watching a couple of kids pretend to be turtles crossing the sand, the moment for the release arrived. The caretaker drew a line in the sand and told us that we weren’t allowed to go beyond it.

I had thought that we would guide the turtles down the beach but that wasn’t the case; once released from the tub, they must make their own way down the beach to the water without human help. This enables their location to imprint and helps to ensure that they can return to this beach later on; if we simply put them into the water, or helped them out, they would likely die.

All of us lined up and each small group was given one turtle; we received the leatherback and I put it on the ground facing in the direction of the ocean. It started moving towards the water but then got disoriented and headed back up to us again. I really wanted to pick it up and turn it around but the guide said that we must leave it to make its own way. It was painful to watch the four tiny beasts attempt to crawl towards the ocean and life.

“Our” turtle, the largest and strongest of the bunch, figured out the correct direction and headed off at a fast crawl towards the huge waves; finally, after a couple of false starts, a large wave caught it, and lifted it out to sea – we all clapped.

This same process was repeated for each of the other three, one of whom was particularly weak. Although they all reached the sea eventually, the weakest one had to be helped out a couple of times by being lifted down towards the water (I don’t think that it will survive, unfortunately).

After it was washed out to sea by a wave, one of the tiny turtles was washed in again farther down the beach by another wave; Ty saw it struggling and gently put it back in the water again – hopefully it will live.

I found the whole experience very moving; it’s hard to believe that these creatures, only one day old, have to go through that onerous process in order to begin their lives. Very few turtles survive; many die on their way to the ocean, picked off by predators, and many die in the ocean from ingesting plastics they mistake for jellyfish. Cut up all plastics before disposing of them and don’t dump plastic – better still, don’t use plastic.

After the turtle release, which probably took about two hours or so, we were off north again to the six kilometer long Manialtepec Lagoon, a body of water surrounded by mangrove swamp vegetation, its tropical climate lending itself to a diverse ecosystem. Dozens of migratory bird species such as herons and ducks make Manialtepec lagoon their home at various times of the year. Chop told us that, in addition to birds and fish, crocodiles live here.

We, and six other people, boarded the small tour boat and headed out on the cloudless night to tour the lagoon and see the phosphorescence created by the water’s phytoplankton. Beside the boat, we could see streaks of bright silver zipping hither and yon; these were fish. Running our hands through the water produced long streaks of brilliant white and silver; resting in the lagoon, our hands appeared white and skeletal because of the phosporescence. Encouraged by Chop, several people, including Coco, jumped in and swam,

their bodies making white and silver patterns in the dark – fabulous (unfortunately, it was impossible to get a decent picture of the phosphorescence). We were told that, in the rainy season, the area is completely dark and the falling rain makes the entire lagoon shine brilliantly against the black background. That would be amazing to see.

See more pics here.

Puerto Escondido, Mexico – the “hidden port”

On our last day in Puerto Vallarta, as we were sitting on the Malecon having coffee, we felt the earth move … it was a small 4.7 earthquake with the epicentre 177 km south of PV, one more in a long series of west coast quakes this Spring. In addition, the volcano that dominates Mexico City’s skyline is waking from its slumber; Popo began to erupt at the beginning of April and is threatening to derail air traffic through Mexico City’s International Airport. Once again I had to worry about an ash cloud screwing up my travel plans (as in April 2010 when Iceland’s grand volcano erupted and almost put the boots to our trip to Turkey). But, luckily, we were able to take off with no difficulty and wing our way towards Huatulco – you can see the ash cloud in the above photo.

After a short one hour flight, we touched down in Huatulco, about 1,000 km south of Vallarta on the Pacific coast. As soon as we got off the plane, I could feel the heat – it reminded me of arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia – dry and hot – about 8 – 10 degrees hotter than PV. Upon being told that a taxi to Puerto Escondido, 98 kilometers north, would be 1,590 pesos, we opted to take a collectivo, less than half that price. With us in the van were a local family, all of whom were hacking and coughing; we spent the trip north trying to avoid getting sprayed with illness producing vapours. About an hour and a half later we arrived without incident (and so far without colds) at the Hotelito Swiss Oasis, a small eight room facility with a pool half a block from the Playa Zicatela, Mexico’s top surfing beach.

The hotel is run by a great Swiss couple who have a golden retriever and four cats, one of whom tries to sneak into our room. It’s the beginning of the surfing season here and the town is beginning to fill up with young surfing folk. Staying at the Hotel with us are Brandy, a wild life biologist and college instructor from Montreal, Coco, a Dutch film maker, three Israelies, and an Australian couple who surf. Several of them are taking Spanish lessons at the school just up the road and Coco is doing research for her next film.

Playa Zicatela is a three kilometer long strech of beach onto which enormous Pacific Ocean waves roll. Great for surfing, it is extremely dangerous for swimming; in addition to the big waves, it also has bad currents and rip tides. The beach reminds me quite a bit of Long Beach or Chesterman Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

We had a very pleasant dinner on the beach our first evening.

This place is all about the surfing (sort of like Tofino … only bigger).

Yesterday, after a tasty breakfast at Mango’s just around the corner from the Hotel, we headed off down the beach to check out the area before meeting Brandy, Coco, and Tina at Playa Carrizalillo, one of the smaller swimming beaches about 2 or 3 km north of us.

Between Playa Zicatela and Playa Principal is a set of stairs to a viewing platform in the design of a castle battlement, from which is a great view out over the beach to the lighthouse.

Since we were travelling without a map, I had to stop and ask directions a few times; the guy in the picture below walked us part of the way to the beach.

Puerto Escondido is still very much a Mexican town; it’s about one tenth the size of PV and maintains its local character. Many of the townspeople have small restaurants in their homes, quite a few with pots of something or other on open fires, very hot in this warm area (just like the folks boiling huge pots of corn in 50 degrees on the highway in Turkey).

Ty was over-heating so we had a quick cervesa pit-stop at the top of the hill before trudging on to the beach.

From the top of the cliff 167 concrete steps down to the beach have been made.

Carrizalillo Beach is a small bay with a few restaurants and bars and beautiful water for swimming, snorkelling, and beginners surfing. Here, unlike Zicatela, the waves are manageable (although even these ones seem big to me).

Quite a few folks spear fish here; one couple used a paddle board to get out past the bay – she paddled while he fished.

Both Tina and Brandy are taking surfing lessons here; in Puerto, they learn the sport young.

This dad and daughter combination spent almost the entire afternoon in the water.

Later in the afternoon, an even younger dad and child combination gave it a go.

This boy could not have been more than a year old, maybe not even that, but he was obviously loving the experience.

Several times, dad put him on a boogie board, gave him a gentle push, and off he sailed toward the beach.

Unlike the very developed, urbanised experience of Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Escondido is much more mellow and laid back, with no concrete highrises and seemingly relatively little catering to the gringo presence. We like it.

See a few more pics here.

 

Aztec Dancing and Isla Cuale Culture, Puerto Vallarta

Just hanging on the beach yesterday, we were treated to an Aztec Fire Dance by a troupe of five dressed in fabulous traditional regalia.

For a change of pace from the beach, we decided to visit the Isla Cuale, a small strip of island dividing the River Cuale into two channels and centro Puerto Vallarta from the south end.

The island can be accessed from the beach or by a couple of pedestrian only foot bridges. Its western end comprises a huge restaurant, pumping out “YMCA” as we passed this day, a small Pre-Columbian museum containing mostly pottery artifacts, an art-cafe,

complete with three parrots in a huge cage and lots of colourful abstract and surrealist paintings, and the usual stalls vending the same old stuff we see on the beach all the time.

Beneath an overpass, a couple of artists had their paintings set up in the shade.

Ty took advantage of the opportunity presented by this display of Jesuses to join his brothers.

We saw an iguana in a huge tree, moving slowly along the branches and sunning itself.

After my encounter with Peter the iguana at Yelapa, the first lizard I’ve ever been really close to, I’ve realised that these beasts are really awesome – very sentient.

At the eastern end of the island are several cafes and bars, some with live music, and the Cuale Cultural Center, a series of small studios for the visual arts and music, as well as a small theatre.

This morning none were open but they do offer courses at various times during the week.

For more info on the Isla Cuale, click here.

See more pics here.

Day tripping to Yelapa

We were interested in seeing some of the less developed areas of the coast south of PV and decided to take the bus to Boca de Tomatlan, the last town on the route south. We were up and out the door by 8:30 for the half kilometer walk to Insurgentes and Basillo Badillo and the bus stop. Just as we rolled up, the bus arrived and off we went down the winding coast-hugging road. Almost all the fancy waterside villas along this road seem to be for sale by “Timothy” real estate – is this the only real estate game in town? And what is not for sale is for rent. There are lots of high rise hotels and condo developments south of PV about as far as Mismaloya, famed for the 1960s movie Night of the Iguana with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. After this point the real estate pickings are slim and Boca does not have much in the way of newer accommodation, although a few palatial residences do dot the bay there.

Boca seems to be a town in transition from its earlier incarnation as a fishing village and its not-yet-established identity as a tourist centre. When we arrived there at 9:30 there were a few bodies about and some drunks sleeping off last night’s bender under a restaurant veranda.

Seeing that there wasn’t too much of interest there for us, we decided to keep on heading south, and caught the ten o’clock water taxi to Yelapa, the last stop on Banderas Bay, accessible only by water.

The water taxi was about half-full and the seas were high; seated at the front, I just about got blasted into the air as one huge wave hit us. Luckily, I held my ground, or boat bench, and we were deposited, after a ride of about 40 minutes and three stops at smaller settlements, at the pier at Yelapa.

We crashed at the first shaded restaurant we saw, the Lagunita, for a breakfast burrito and coffee – big and delicious – and spent our time under a palapa on the beach, watching dogs chase seagulls, kids play frizzbe, vendors vend, and iguanas walk.

I had my picture taken with Peter the iguana (he’s very forward – I’d only just met him and already he’s feeling me up …).

In the afternoon parasailers rode the sky, and paragliders swooped down from the surrounding hills. The vendor parade wasn’t as active there as in PV but, for a small burg, there were still quite a few people plying the sand.

As we were driving down the coast, we had noticed what looked like a sewage outflow pipe dumping crap into the ocean. And while on the boat to Yelapa we saw a slick of yellowish-white bubbly crud floating on top of the water along the current all down the shore, ending its run in Yelapa Bay. We weren’t sure whether this was indeed effluent but it did not look very appealing so we didn’t swim – too bad.

After we got back, I read the following account of the foam, which explains the phenomenon (although that pipe is definitely pumping out sewage, so that’s there as well):

In Banderas Bay during February and March you might encounter what looks like stretches of filth and foam along the coastline. It is NOT sewage or filth. Professor Fabio Cupul explains (in the PV Tribune) : A word about ‘Sea Foam’ … For a couple of months, usually February and March, Vallarta has a strange ocean phenomenon which appears as, well, filth floating near the tides of the beaches. This foam is due to the presence in the water of an infinite number of acorn barnacles or sacabocados (animals related to shrimp that live attached to rocks). These organisms shed their skin every time they increase in size. There are also small fragments of plants and animals within it, that complicate matters.

These elements gather along the coastline of the bay and on the surface of the water to form a net that catches small films of sea water as the waves break on the beach, creating a dirty looking color, a situation that makes many think of contamination. A fraction of the material is generated by the acorn barnacles and the rest comes from the mechanism of an action known as upwelling. Cold water, rich in organic matter, upwells from the ocean’s depth to its surface. As the temperature on the bottom is lesser and it receives the waste and offal of plants and animals that live along that area of water, that precipitate and accumulate on the ocean floor, thus enriching it. This results in important economic benefits, maintaining the health of the biological ecosystems. This dirty looking sea foam offers an infallible indication of the beginning and continuation of life within the natural environment.

(http://www.netresult.ws/anitashideaway/pvevents.htm)

Yelpapa is hotter and drier than Puerto Vallarta and has a river leading inland to a waterfall, an attraction we did not bother investigating, having seen many over the past several months, most disappointingly small or dried up. After several hours under the palapa enjoying the sun and breeze, we ran across the sand to catch the 3:30 boat back to Boca where the bus was waiting as we climbed the hill to it for our ride back.

For more Yelapa info, click here.

See more pics here.

Puerto Vallarta South Side: Zona Romantica, Old Town … art and culture

The Paradise Community Center right near us was started by two expats and is a bustling hive of activity.

We spent some time there this morning while the Artisans Co-op Market was on and sampled some great Thai food as we watched the crowd come and go. Kitten adoptions, chair massage (by our condo neighbour Sunny), jewellery, food, clothes … it’s all there every week.

Sitting under an umbrella in the courtyard was a very pleasant way to pass some time on a warm and sunny day.

Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town isn’t really all that old but it has the atmosphere of old: cobbled streets, three story walkup concrete apartments, lots of multi-coloured bougainvillea winding itself around poles and up walls.

It also has a fair number of abandoned, vacant, and condemned properties, some of which are huge and cavernous.

I’m not sure whether this is a result of the recent harsh economic conditions or local conditions but it’s an interesting juxtaposition with the evident liveliness of the art scene.

Old Town also has lots of restaurants and bars and a Saturday morning market. And it has art. As in the Centro area further north, here, too, are a cluster of galleries and shops selling contemporary and Mexican folk art. This area also has an Art Walk, every second Friday, centred on Basillio Badillo Boulevard, but it ends the first week in April. So, we strolled around the area without the benefit of a map, trying to find the galleries hidden on shady streets, as well as those out in full view in the blaze of sun.

Galeria Contempo is one of the newest, and largest, spaces on the South Side. The work here is eclectic, comprising abstract painting and figurative bronze sculpture.

And the space is wonderful, two storeys with a wraparound balcony on the second floor, perfect for plants and sculpture.

Galeria Dante bills itself as the largest gallery in PV; the first two times we came by, it was closed; we finally we able to see it on Monday.

The space occupies almost an entire block and consists of several rooms and some outdoor areas, every inch of which, it seems, is packed with art. Paintings and sculpture, mostly, and very colourful. The nicest space is the outdoor sculpture garden, with a variety of figurative bronzes and a lovely fish pond sans fish.

The problem with many of the galleries here is the same problem I found with almost every shop I entered in Turkey – horror vacui! Fear of vacant space – seemingly, everything in the place must be on display. It’s hard to concentrate on any one thing because everything else impinges on one’s consciousness – there’s simply too much stuff!

However, even given that problem, this gallery is an enjoyable experience with the grand variety of art on display, some of it excellent.

We spend an interesting bit of time in the Jose Marca Studio and Gallery on Lazaro Cardenas. Jose was kind enough to show us around his studio space and explain the artistic philosophy behind his neo-expressionist primitivism, telling us that early on in his career other artists and galleries had told him that his work was “good for nothing”. I guess he’s proven them wrong, in that he’s been doing his thing in PV for over twenty-five years and looks at least 15 years younger than his 70.

His good for nothing art has been good for him.

Galeria Puerco Azul features folk art; it used to be a family house and the place is huge, with many rooms full of sculpture, jewellery, painting, and other objets d’art.

They also have a few paintings of archangels done by Peruvian artists – I was really tempted by one of a sword-wielding Michael … still thinking about it.

We also visited several shops which sold masks of all sorts, wooden, beaded (a parrot-headed one was especially cool), papier mache, and more coil pottery.

Puerto Vallarta: if you did nothing but go to the beach and walk the malecon, you’d have one kind of experience – just like anywhere in the world, really, sun, sand, sea – but two blocks off the strip and away from the water, there’s a whole much more interesting world out there. This city is moving up our “Place to Stay in the Sun When We’re Old” list fast, for several reasons: it’s beautiful, it’s on the ocean, the climate in winter is fantastic, it’s got a lively cultural scene and lots of artists;

it has a big English-speaking community and most of the locals speak English well enough (this is a plus and minus; I wanted to improve my Spanish but, whenever I speak it, the local respondent speaks back in English, making me think that my accent is execrable! However, I continue to persist); it is drivable from Vancouver (we could bring the dog and cat with us).

See more pics here.

For more information, click on the links below:

Paradise Community Center

Galeria Contempo

Galleria Dante

South Side Shuffle

Jose Marco

Art scene in PV

Puerto Vallarta nights: Dancing and Art Walking

Traditional Mexican dance demonstrations are held twice a week in Puerto Vallarta, Sunday nights at Los Arcos small amphitheatre on the Malecon and Friday nights at the park in the South End. Sunday was a beautiful day and glorious cloudless evening; the crowd on the Malecon was thick as we wove our way towards the amphitheatre.

The place was packed and the only spot where we could see the dancers was behind the stage – less than optimal …

We watched a flamenco-like version of Ravel’s Bolero and a couple of regional dances by a troupe of brightly-clad and beautiful people before crossing the street to the main square where a competing crowd of folks danced in front of the bandstand to recorded Glenn Gould big band music.

Sitting in between these two gave us a somewhat schizophrenic musical experience. The church of Our Lady of Puerto Vallarta, with its beautiful silver crown, glowed against the sky as the night darkened.

The tiny dog you can see in the shadows below was quietly waiting for its master while the Easter Sunday mass progressed.

Both Ty and I were sick for a couple of days; after fighting off a cold, we headed back out to the beach, frolicing in the high waves and enjoying the people-watching.

Wednesday night saw us out on the streets of centro again for the weekly Art Walk, a PV staple for the last fifteen years. Since we didn’t have a map of the walk, we asked in a few local restaurants if they knew where the Art Walk was; although it’s been going for such a long time, none of them did … sigh.

We did eventually find one of the galleries and from there, with map in hand, we were able to make our way around to almost all of the participating galleries. PV’s contemporary art scene is apparently second only to Mexico City’s but this night there weren’t too many people out, possibly because it’s nearing the end of the season here.

We saw some beautiful Mata Ortiz pottery at the Galeria de Ollas. Each of these exquisite pieces is hand built from coils (no wheels are used) and painted freehand – the detail is incredible. Just down the street at the Galeria Serendipity, the collection is eclectic, with surrealist painting, bronze sculpture, and folk art co-existing.

The weary looking gallery owner welcomed us effusively, happy that someone had seen fit to cross his doorway on a quiet night. Around the corner at the Galeria Colibri, specialising in Mexican folk art, we did break down and buy two painted coconut masks from their vast selection (although I’m not sure where in our bags they’re going to fit).

From there we followed the small crowd to Arte 550, the gallery and studio space of Patricia Gawle and Kathleen Carillo, two women who are a going concern.

They paint and sculpt, run a B&B and “art experience” workshops and retreats, and offer lessons in their studio. I loved their space – it’s big enough to have separate work and display areas with a largish open courtyard at the back.

The biggest and most diverse collection of art is housed at the Corsica Gallery, a vast complex of bronze figurative sculpture and surrealist painting, some of it soft-core-like images of young girls with their panties exposed a la a mid 20th century European painter whose name (beginning with a “B”) escapes me at the moment. While the painting did not appeal, some of the bronze sculptures were excellent and what a fantastic display space.

Across the street, at the Omar Alonso, abstract paintings co-exist with an interesting installation of bricks and water, with which we were encouraged to interact. I obliged, making a small inukshuk as my contribution to the PV art scene.

Our final stop on the Walk was the Galeria Whitlow, the showroom and studio of self-taught painter Michael Whitlow, orginally from California and now resident in PV.

He specialises in photo-realist still lives, framed and lit enticingly, and also carries the work of other realist painters; David was kind enough to chat to us about the PV scene and how he came to be there.

After a few hours of art, the stomach was rumbling and we rolled into Pipi’s for what turned out to be the most enormous burritos I have ever seen. I couldn’t do more than nibble on the corner of mine like a mouse; we packed them home for lunch later.

Walking back along the Malecon was like being in some other world; while the streets two blocks away were quiet and laid back, with art, artists, and good food, the boardwalk was absolutely packed with vacationers in a scene that could have been anywhere … Waikiki Beach came to mind.

See more pics here.

Puerto Vallarta: Beaches and Art

We made it to Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday without any trouble (other than the hours of waiting around at the airports) and were sitting on the balcony of our condo in the Old Town, cervesas in hand, by 7 pm. This place, a nicely decorated one bedroom in the Brisas del Mar complex one block off Los Muertos beach in the south end of PV, is beautiful and perfect for us, much more comfortable than the colonial house in Guanajuato.

The weather has been spectacular since we got here, high 20s and sunny, and we’ve walked the Malecon, hit the beach, and visited the Hacienda Mosaico, an artist’s retreat and B&B near the Hotel Zone in the north of town.

Puerto Vallarta is one of the favoured destinations for west coast Canadian and American tourists, often for a short week-long fun in the sun vacation; however, I’ve never been here before. I didn’t really have any particular image in mind but I didn’t realise that the city would be so large or so built up. Apparently, the population is around 350,000 and the beaches along Banderas Bay are chockablock full of hotels, restaurants, condos, stores (big box and all), and high rises. The Old Town where we’re staying is sometimes referred to as the Zona Romantica (I’ve got no idea why) or the South End and is a lively area with an eclectic mixture of people and entertainment options.

The sculpture and other public art along the one mile long malecon (or oceanfront boardwalk) is great – lots of gigantic bronze statues with which everyone enjoys interacting. And of course Ty had to climb to the top of one of them and throw his arms and legs out as I was yelling at him to get down …

A temporary exhibit of painted wooden boats is also installed here.

Local people have various ingenious ways to express themselves creatively and garner tips – sand sculpture, imitation statues with which one can take pictures, and, most impressively, acrobatics by a group of local Indians who descend (wihtout harnesses) flying from a pole while their colleague plays the flute.

There are also many sea birds here, including lots of pelicans, one of which gave me the hairy eyeball.

The two weeks before and after Easter are traditionally PV’s busiest time and the city is packed with vacationers from around Mexico, the States, and Canada. Yesterday we spent the day at the Lido Beach Club near our place; after a quiet morning, by noon the entire beach was full of people frolicing in the large, and sometimes enormous, waves pounding the shoreline – fabulous!

This morning we took the bus north, past the Sheraton, to visit Sam, the artist owner of Hacienda Mosaico, an artists’ retreat and B&B that also hosts various artmaking workshops during the tourist (winter) season.

She had just finished hosting her last group for the year and was kind enough to show us around the place. The Hacienda is lovely, full of art of all kinds (mosaic, glass, painting, sculpture, jewellery), and has seven double rooms for guests, both indoor and outdoor workshop areas, lovely gardens, and a beautiful pool. It would certainly be a fabulous place to be creative!

For more info on Hacienda Mosaico, click here.

For more info on PV’s Malecon sculpture, click here.

For more pictures, click here and here.

Three Ex-Haciendas, a house, a temple, a torture museum, and a Palm Sunday Parade – Guanajuato!

We have had a busy few days here in Guanajuato.

On Saturday, we headed out on the bus to visit the Ex-Hacienda las Trancas, a former 17th century fort now converted to a luxurious hotel, about 15 kilometers outside of the city of Dolores Hidalgo, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We’d not heard of this place before; the owner, Kelley Wilkinson, left a note on one of my blog posts, and after a bit of an email conversation, invited us to come out and spend the day at the hotel – we were delighted.

We were amazingly lucky with the bus – just as we purchased our tickets and got on, it pulled away – huzzah! Suzanne greeted us at the Hacienda and gave us a tour of the whole facility, showing us the eleven very large and beautifully appointed guest rooms, the dining room (with seating for 30), the spa, the gym, the horse stables, and the pool.

After the walkabout we had an incredible lunch in the gardens and spent a couple of hours enjoying the pool.

After a taxi ride back into DH, once again, just as we purchased our bus tickets and jumped aboard, the bus pulled away for the hour and a half ride back to Guanajuato.

For more info on the Hacienda las Trancas, click here.

See more pictures here.

Yesterday, after my friend Heather had told me about a printmaking studio and artist’s residence here in Guanajuato, Ty and I paid a visit to Piramidal Grafica, the ex-hacienda and studio of Jim and Jenny Hibbert.

Originally from Portland, where Jim taught printmaking and drawing in a university, they now make their home in what used to be an old tanning factory from the 1700’s. The wells and pools from the old tanning era can still be seen in what is now their garden.

They purchased this place, just about at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the city from our house, as a ruin in 1989 and moved down full-time about five years ago, with all their many tons of art gear.

The hacienda building itself includes their living space, an artist’s apartment which they rent out, a studio area upstairs, a gallery, a huge printmaking studio, a workshop, and an outdoor area which could be used for sculpture. Jim was kind enough to show us around the workshop and gallery – what a wonderful place!

For more info on Piramidal Grafica, click here.

After a coffee at the Italian Coffee Company next to the Basilica, we made our way over to Calle Barranca to visit Carl, the innkeeper that I’d met outside the grocery store when we first arrived here.

Carl is the host of a B&B without the B which occupies a full block of real estate in the Centro area.

He, and his little dog Millie, showed us the four rental suites and the beautiful roof deck,

which has a stunning view out over the city.

On the roof they are experimenting to see which flowers will be able to flourish in the dry heat of Guanajuato. The furnishings, decorations, and colourful design of the house are really beautiful; this would be a great place to stay while in the city.

See more pictures here.

For more information on Carl’s house, click here.

Last night we joined the crowd down at the park below our house to watch the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) Parade. Including marching bands (which we’ve heard practicing for 2 weeks),

costumed characters in tableaux on the back of trucks re-enacting the life of Jesus,

full-size effigies of Jesus on a donkey and Jesus crucified carried by townspeople,

and a crowd of folks carrying palm fronds, the parade, put together by the Jesuits, snakes its way through the city from the Park, along the main drag of Benito Juarez, to the Templo of the Compania de Jesus, taking about an hour and finishing just before sundown.

Today, to complete our round of Ex-Haciendas and churches, we visited the Ex-Hacienda del Cochero, otherwise known as the Museum of the Holy Inquisition, and the Temple of San Caetano in Valenciana, in the hills above Guanajuato.

The Inquisition Museum contains quite a few dark installations of figures being tortured in various ingenious ways, many instruments of torture, skeletons hanging and lying in graves, cages swinging from the ceiling, and three dimensional holograms (whose purpose here was mysterious to me), all displayed in lurid red, blue, and green coloured lights.

The Templo de San Caetano is a few blocks further up the hill from the Museum and is a stunning salmon-coloured Spanish baroque confection, containing three floor to ceiling golden altars

and a small chapel with a reclining Jesus in a large glass case and a severed head of Christ in a tiny one.

After perusing these, we headed back down the steps to the local loncheria, a small spot with a grill and three plastic tables, where we had a delicious lunch of tortas for about $1.75 each.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Puerto Vallarta; I’ve arranged for a taxi to meet us at 9:30 at the Museo de las Momias – hopefully he’ll show up! I have really, really loved Guanajuato and hope to be back in the not-too-distant future.

See more pictures here.